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BBSR OQ:The Punjabi 'Munda' in the USA Hockey Team (6/4/2019)
--s2h Team
At 27, Ajai Dhadwal is tall figure not just for his height, but also for the responsibility he is bestowed upon. One of USA's most experienced players, Ajai would be leading his team in the all-important qualifiers in FIH Men's Series finals in Bhubaneswar.

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USA qualified in the tournament after a highly successful FIH Series Open in Salamanca, Mexico where the team won three matches and drew one, scoring a total of 54 goals (22-0 v Panama, 19-0 v Costa Rica, 8-0 vPuerto Rico, 5-5 v Mexico). The team wants to keep the confidence as they face higher ranked teams in this tournament.

"We need to be grounded. The team is playing with confidence and the practice has been good. Hopefully, we can keep up that momentum going. We need to do well and get to.the top two qualification, which is get goal," Ajai says.

Interestingly, Ajai has his roots in India. His father was a professional player who played for Delhi state and also Railways, before settling down in USA, with his mother, who is also an Indian.

"My father played in 70s before settling in USA and getting married. So, we are a Punjabi family. I can understand Punjabi well and can also speak a bit. I can also speak a bit of Hindi," the midfielder says.

But Ajai is not the only Punjabi 'munda' in the team. He is joined by Paul Singh, whose roots are also in Punjab and Mohan Gandhi, whose family hails from Gujarat.

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"Our families have known each other for long. In fact, the three of us have played hockey as children."

Though Ajai takes over his father as far as playing skills are concerned, he cites that the playing style in different in both countries.

"In India, it is more skillful and fast-paced. US hockey is more about structure."

It won't be an easy journey for USA as it would face stiff resistance from teams like South Africa. Bht the team has its priorities set.

"We have prioritised this series and Pan-America Games to make it to Olympics. So, we will try our best to do it here only," Ajay says.

Compared to its women compatriot, the USA men's team are not a favourite and have plated less matches against higher ranked teams.

"Sometimes it is a struggle to play against quality opposition. But, there has been a huge improvement now. We have played Japan, Ireland, Canada and other teams ranked higher than us so that we can also improve our level of hockey. We have come with the experience, hopefully we will do well here," he concludes.

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