India's Hockey 5s hero Mohammed Raheel hopes to be part of Commonwealth Games squad with top players

India’s Hockey 5s hero Mohammed Raheel hopes to be part of Commonwealth Games squad with top players

In the era of instant hits, what T20 has done to traditional cricket, hockey is trying to find its equal relevance through the new format – Hockey 5s.

Depleted field size, players being reduced 5-a-side, usage of perimeter boards and a flurry of goals — the Hockey 5s tournament that concluded in Lausanne, Switzerland earlier this month looked quite promising in bringing back fans to the ground.

Not surprisingly, it was the Indian men’s hockey team, where players have been trying out the new format for quite some time, were crowned champions. And one of the architects of this success was the 25-year-old Bengaluru lad Mohammed Raheel. Scoring 10 goals in 5 matches, Raheel proved to be a 5s specialist who was adjudged the player of the tournament.

Adept with skill and pace, Raheel credits FIH for introducing this tournament, which he has played at the national level for three years. “When I went to play the tournament in Lausanne, I already had three years of Hockey 5s experience at the domestic level representing Karnataka. I am immensely thankful to FIH for holding this tournament. I love playing the skilful, fast-paced, more one-on-one situation-inducing tournament. Playing at an international tournament and further putting up a good show has boosted my confidence,” Raheel says in a conversation with The Bridge.

Raheel’s journey into the sport has been quite inspiring, building upon his family legacy. His father Md. Naseeruddin and elder brother Md. Naeemuddin were former hockey players. A self-proclaimed fan of former hockey great Arjun Halappa says, “I had an early start in the game representing my school when I was 12 years old. I always admired Arjun Halappa’s game which further motivated me to stick to this sport.”

Having captained the Karnataka side and representing the Air India hockey team for 4 years, Raheel’s call to the Indian camp of 33 players came up in January 2022. “I am thankful to coach Graham Reid, who has given me some unparalleled inputs in this game. He observes the minutest of detail in a player’s style and advised me on what to do,” adds Raheel.

Raheel, who got on the scoresheet in all five matches, netted twice in India’s thrilling 6-4 win against Poland in the Final. Reflecting on the campaign, the young forward said, “It was a new experience, the matches were really fast-paced, but we improved match-by-match and got to score a lot of goals. We started using the perimeter boards more, and with that our finishing got improved. We played really well as a team.”

The youngster’s family gave Raheel a grand welcome on his arrival from winning the inaugural Hockey 5s tournament, but Raheel says he is hungry for more. After joining camp with the rest of the senior players, Raheel’s takeaway was how the seasoned hockey stars of India thrive under pressure situations. He says, “Soon I joined the Indian camp, it was a continuous learning process for me seeing the seniors handling pressure so well, they have the ability to beat the best teams in the world.

“I hope, I will be noticed for my performance in the Hockey 5s tournament. The aim is to play 11-a-side hockey alongside the top players of India at the upcoming Commonwealth Games,” Raheel concludes.

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