Rabichandra Singh: From dodging mom to watch hockey to donning India colours | Hockey - Hindustan Times
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Rabichandra Singh: From dodging mom to watch hockey to donning India colours

By, New Delhi
Nov 15, 2022 09:15 PM IST

The young India midfielder from Manipur speaks about finding his feet in the game and how dire financial conditions at home almost killed his sporting dream early

Teenager Moirangthem Rabichandra Singh would sneak out of his house to go and watch Kothajit Singh and Chinglensana Singh in action. The India players from Manipur would often train at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Imphal during breaks for the national team.

India midfielder Rabichandra Singh Moirangthem (Hockey India)
India midfielder Rabichandra Singh Moirangthem (Hockey India)

He loved hockey, but Rabichandra risked the ire of his mother Bheigyabati Devi, who wanted him to focus on studies than play the sport given the family’s brittle financial situation. It got worse when Rabichandra’s farmer father Nimai Singh died in 2016. The burden of keeping the family afloat fell on the shoulders of his elder brother Debid Singh, who was with the Army.

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“My mother was dead against my playing hockey. There were times when she would come to the ground to take me home. My brother had played hockey and it was he who convinced my mother to give me permission. He explained to her that it was due to the sport that he got into the Army,” Rabichandra said.

It was the zest for the game that helped the now 21-year-old midfielder from Thoya Leikai village in Moirang, Manipur, to make his India debut. He played two back-to-back Pro League matches against Argentina in March and another against Germany in April. Though Rabichandra didn’t make the cut for the Asia Cup or Commonwealth Games, the midfielder made a comeback this month after impressing India chief coach Graham Reid in the FIH Hockey 5s that the team won in Lausanne, Switzerland in June.

“Playing for the national team is a dream for every player. I feel privileged. The seniors guided me all the time. Whenever I had a doubt or made a mistake, they explained it to me. It has been a very good experience,” said Rabichandra, who made his comeback with two Pro League matches against New Zealand and Spain. “First match for India I was under a lot of pressure, but my confidence has grown. My seniors supported me and told me what to do, explaining my role.”

The beginning

To begin with, Rabichandra was following on the footsteps of his brother, who played for Manipur in the junior nationals. A coaching camp had started at the All Moirang Hockey Association and the 10-year-old picked up his brother’s stick–he was away on his Army posting –to attend trials at the club.

Impressed with the boy, the club coaches took him to SAI, Imphal. After a tryout, he was selected in 2012. “There was no hockey turf in my village. I was amazed at the SAI facilities, the turf the first time I played on it,” said Rabichandra, who idolises former India skipper Sardar Singh besides state mates Chinglensana and Kothajit.

Rabichandra played for SAI Imphal till 2016, and when the sub-junior nationals were held in the city, the youngest of four children played well to take his team to the final. National scouts at the tournament took note and asked him to come to Delhi for selection trials in the National Hockey Academy. He passed the trials and joined NHA.

Along with his hockey skills at the Mayor Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Rabindra also polished his Hindi while in Delhi. “Earlier, I couldn’t speak Hindi properly. But when I stayed in Delhi for a year, I improved a lot,” he said.

Selected for the junior national camp in 2017, he immediately made his junior India debut at the Sultan of Johor Cup that October. He cemented his spot, playing in the Youth Olympics and the Junior World Cup. He was given a three-year (2019-2022) scholarship by the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), which meant he could send the stipend home.

He made the cut for the senior national camp in January, debuting for India two months later. “There’s a big difference between the junior and senior levels. The game intensity is much higher,” said the midfielder, who now has five India caps.

His rise in hockey has softened his mother. She was delighted when her son was felicitated by the Manipur government on returning home in June after India’s FIH Hockey 5s win in Lausanne.

“My family is very happy to see me play for India. They keenly wait to watch my games on TV.”

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