India junior men's national hockey defender and drag-flicker Pratap Lakra has revealed he follows the likes of Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra in the senior men's team in order to improve his skills in hockey.
"Since the senior team also trains in Bengaluru where we have our national camp, whenever we have a rest day or when the senior team is playing an internal match, we go and watch them. I particularly follow Rupinder Pal Singh for his dragflick execution and in terms of defence and game I follow Birendra Lakra," said Pratap, who works as a Ticket Collector in the Railways.
"Both are very experienced and bring a special skill set to the team and watching them helps me improvise my own game," he added.
Pratap is yet another prodigy emerging from the tribal belt of Sundergarh district in Odisha which is a hotbed of talented hockey players. From a small hamlet called Beldihi near Sundergarh, hockey came naturally to Pratap whose father and sister were already popular in that region for their innate abilities on the field and earned recognition for the family at the famed Khasi Tournament where the prize is a rare breed of goat meat to feast on for the winning team.
"For me, hockey was a natural choice. Everyone in my village played the sport. My sister had played for the state and my father was a regular at the Khasi tournaments. I was very young when I picked up the stick and I knew hockey would be my future," said Pratap Lakra.
With the Odisha Government taking keen interest in promoting the sport and having invested in High Performance Centres across the state, Pratap feels many more youngsters like himself will be benefited from the program. "The initiative is great. In Odisha, talented players are in abundance but with the High Performance Centres, they will be groomed as per international standards at a very young age and that will only help increase the pool of players in India," he said.
Having played the Sultan of Johor Cup in 2017 and 2019, as well as the 8-Nation Tournament in Spain last year, Pratap said he enjoys most playing against opponents Australia and Great Britain.
"Playing against Great Britain particularly is very challenging because they play to their positions, don't leave their markings and ensure the small mistakes we make cost us dearly.
"There is a lot to learn from these two teams when we play against them and surely Australia and Great Britain will be teams to watch out for in next year's FIH Junior World Cup to be held in India."
Currently on a break, Pratap awaits to hear from SAI for the next junior national coaching camp to be called. "Until I return to the national camp, I will need to continue my duty as TC and focus on keeping fit," he said.(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)