Rupinder credits team's unity for title triumph.

If dragflick ace Rupinder Pal Singh is given the task of picking his favourite hunting ground, he won't have to look beyond Malaysia. It was here that he made his international debut in 2010 - as part of the gold-winning Indian team at the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament. His first international hat-trick too came in the same tournament a year later.

If dragflick ace Rupinder Pal Singh is given the task of picking his favourite hunting ground, he won't have to look beyond Malaysia. It was here that he made his international debut in 2010 - as part of the gold-winning Indian team at the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament. His first international hat-trick too came in the same tournament a year later.

And, on Sunday he played a key role in ensuring India reclaimed the Asian Champions Trophy crown, with a 3-2 verdict against arch-rivals Pakistan in Kuantan, Malaysia.

While the win was hailed as a perfect Diwali gift to the nation by many, the 26-year-old from Punjab believes it is testimony of the team's unity and ability to back each other. As the highest ranked Asian side (world No.6), PR Sreejesh and his men were pre-tournament favourites, but what makes the victory count is the way in which the youngsters have stood up. Be it Yousuf Affan in the forward line or Akash Chikte in the goal, the rookie players were far from cookies that crumbled under pressure.

Rupinder, who emerged the highest scorer of the tournament with 11 goals told TOI on Monday: "There were a number of players who didn't have much of a big-match exposure. With them, we ensured they never felt the senior-junior difference. We always tell them, irrespective of the years we have put in, we all work towards a common goal."

Praising Chikte, who stood in goal in place of an injured skipper PR Sreejesh in crucial matches including the final, the defender pointed out: "Akash is very good goalkeeper who has been improving mentally and game-wise with each match. He played with a very positive mindset and didn't get nervous. We never made him feel he had big shoes to fill. Before and during the match, I made it a point to communicate with him to calm nerves and cheer him up."

Assessing the team's run, the 6'4" tall Olympian, said: "We wanted to win the title badly because we didn't want to end up third time unlucky. We had lost two finals - Azlan Shah and Champions Trophy - in recent times, so, we told ourselves we have to win this at any cost."

Apart from his goal conversion, Rupinder also shouldered the responsibilities in the backline. In the absence of VR Raghunath and Surender Kumar, who was suspended for the last two matches, Rupinder rarely slipped up. Talking about his scoring spree, Rupinder said: "Personally, it been a dream run. My role is that of a dragflicker and I have always wanted to contribute as much as I can in that area. I missed a few against Korea (in the drawn league match) and I know what accuracy in penalty conversion can do to a team's fortune and I didn't want to let go of that advantage.

Also, before the start of the tournament I worked on a few things and was successful in implementing them. After the Olympics we went back to the drawing board and re-worked on the penalty corner variations, especially faking in dragflicks."

Fom: TOI