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SANDEEP MICHAEL: A Rising Star (2/20/2004)
--B.David
Poetry in motion. That’s Sandeep Michael when in full bloom. His searing runs on the flanks, darting sprints into empty spaces in the attacking zone, disguised and occasional daring dives, have made him the new sensation in Indian hockey. Sandeep’s versatility, ability to play in any position and acute hockey intelligence show that he is precocious and talented teenager.

Yes, he is the new kid on the block. The 18-year old sharp shooter from Bangalore had created headlines and made waves in the few tournaments he played for the senior Indian team. His uncanny knack to score goals from any position and any angle has made him a favourite amongst the coaches and endeared him to hockey fans within a short period of his arrival on the national scene. His hunger for goals, thrust and surging runs are the hallmarks of a classy forward and should seal his place in the Indian team, in years to come.

Born in a family of sportspersons on June 23, 1985 in Bangalore, Sandeep learnt his rudiments at Ambedkar Stadium in Bharat Electronics Limited’s township where he started with the BEL Colony Youth Association team. His fascination for hockey started as a toddler and he learnt the basics from his first coach Prakash. His father John Michael was a state-level volleyball player and his mother Alamelu a fine sportswoman of yesteryears who excelled in athletics and kho-kho as a state player. His younger brother, Vineet, too plays hockey and has represented the Karnataka state which won the gold in the Bangalore Sub-Junior Nationals in December 2002.

Sandeep made his debut as a senior in the Rabobank 4-Nation tournament in 2002. However, it was in Australia in 2003 that he hogged the limelight in Indian colours. In his very second tournament he scored two goals after he came in as a substitute for Dhanraj Pillay. The legendary Pillay was rested by coach Rajinder Singh, to give Sandeep Michael international exposure. Capitalising on this opportunity, Sandeep scored a stunning goal. Though he was played only in short bursts, during the second leg of the 3-Nation tournament in Sydney in June 2003 he provided glimpses of his brilliance. Dhanraj Pillay himself acknowledged that it was one of the best goals he had ever seen.

The energetic Karnataka star picked up the ball near the sidelines, dodged past three defenders and flicked high into the opposite side of goal from millimeters inside the backline. This classic goal against Australia ‘A’, scored from a near zero angle, brought spontaneous cheers from the crowd. Dhanraj later revealed that he had seen only Mukesh Kumar attempt and score with such audacious shots. And on arrival in Bangalore after the Sydney triumph, Pillay was again gushing with praise about Sandeep Michael’s marvellous goal, saying “It was a beauty of a goal...well executed. The finishing was accurate and precise.”

Sandeep joined the Sports Authority of India hostel located at the KSHA Stadium in 1998 and fine tuned his basics under SAI coaches Ashwath and Prabhakar. It also gave him an opportunity to play on the artificial surface regularly. Being a keen student of the game he began to blossom in the company of better players. However, he was disappointed when he failed to make the Karnataka team for the Junior Nationals held in Bangalore in June 1999. Instead he had to be content as a volunteer at the Press box.

But ever an optimist, Sandeep never allowed this setback to bother him or deter his enthusiasm for the game. Instead he improved his game rapidly, when he joined the Centre of Excellence (CoE) in 2000. He showed his prowess in the Super Division League playing for the CoE and bypassed many of his peers at the junior level. Thus he was picked straightaway for the Karnataka senior team. In 2001, he made his debut for the country as a junior in the Under-18 Asia Cup at Ipoh in Malaysia under skipper Jugraj Singh and coaches Rajinder Singh and Narinder Singh Sodhi. With India winning the tournament after a fine performance, he tasted success at his first international meet.

Soon he joined Air India, one of the elite teams in the country as a guest player in 2002. He was noticed after a fine string of performances in domestic tournaments to get a call for the camp in preparation for the Rabobank 4-Nation Cup in Amstelveen, a warm-up tourney for the 2002 Champions Trophy.

After his senior debut at the Rabobank tourney, he was a member of the successful Indian team both at the Panasonic Masters Cup in Germany and the second leg of the 3-Nation HA Men’s Challenge Cup in Sydney in 2003. He was also part of the Indian development teams that won gold and bronze respectively in the Akbar el Yom Cup competition in 2002 and 2003.

Later, he was in the probables for the 2003 Champions Trophy in Amstelveen but a bout of jaundice during the camp in Himachal Pradesh spoiled his dreams of playing an elite tournament. “I was very disappointed. I was crying everyday

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