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London Lions: Gurbaj A Modern Day Leslie Claudius (7/3/2012)
--K. Arumugam
Gurbaj Singh: A Modern Day Leslie Claudius

It may sound a jarring note if one ventures to compare a contemporary player with a legend of the 50s, but one cannot at the same time escape the striking similarities of Gurbaj Singh with Leslie Claudius, a right-half who never was tired on the field, who never was just a right-half but an all rounder on the turf. undefined

Leslie, people say, was cool and collected and it was in the fitness of things of those times. On the contrary, Gurbaj is aggressive, often landing in troubles, even eye-sore of umpires. But he is an enduring fighter, as that of Leslie, and never tired of moving length and breadth of the turf.

So also Gurbaj Singh.

He didn’t have the easiest entry into the national side but ever since he made his debut, Gurbaj Singh has been one of the key men in every Indian outing. A gifted midfielder who can change the course of any match on his day, right-half Gurbaj has an immaculate sense of ball distribution, never-ending energy and ability to sprint away from the opposition with the ball in a jiffy.

Born on August 9, 1988, Gurbaj is a product of the now-defunct Kirloskar Hockey Academy (Jalandhar). Gurbaj also is among the few players to make the senior team grade before entrenching himself at the junior level. He made his India debut at the Doha Asian Games in 2006, coming in at the expense of the experienced Viren Rasquinha, who retired from international hockey after that. Gurbaj’s inclusion and Viren’s exclusion was questioned by many, adding to pressure on the youngster to prove his worth. However, he managed to do so remarkably well, so much so that along with Sardar Singh, he is now among the key members of the current side in setting up goals for others with clever run downs and precise crosses.

Gurbaj was part of the Indian side that won bronze (2007), silver (2008) and gold (1009 & 2010) in successive years at the Azlan Shah Cup. He also helped win gold at the 2007 Asia Cup. At the same time, he continued to impress at the junior level, captaining the side to victory at the junior Asia Cup in 2008 in Hyderabad, defeating Pakistan in the final.

On field, Gurbaj plays aggressive hockey, though he rarely gets fouled. Off field, he is a complete contrast, shy and withdrawn, taking time to open up to strangers and happiest and most comfortable with other players in the side from Punjab. He was made DSP in Punjab Police last year. Though he failed to make the team for the Olympic qualifiers due to injury, he made a comeback to the side for the four-nation Olympic test event in London.

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