This league comes after two years of sports cessation due to the global pandemic, and during that period, the Singapore Hockey Federation did not host official tournaments. However, following recent national guidelines, the Hockey fraternity resumed the national leagues after two years.
The pandemic situation saw Khalsa's previous coach and players exit about a year ago, and the club was in dire straits with no coach and only seven players remaining. However, the remaining seven put their heads together and began to rebuild the team. Khalsa sought players from all over the place, and with luck on their side, the pool of players in the group started expanding. Bakri also became the hot seat for the coaches' spot, and it was no surprise he accepted the job. Bakri knew a lot of work had to be done, as he had very little time left before the commencement of the league.
Part of the preparation involved a spate of friendly matches for the league. But, their score line reflected the team's performance, not in favour of Khalsa. The team needed more time to develop chemistry, familiarize themselves, and adapt to each other's play styles. Thankfully, Captain Kumar and Vice-Captain Gurvinder kept the team intact, and with their guidance, things started to sail smoothly.
Then, the league commenced, and every team except SKA looked dominant on paper as their players were more technically skilled and experienced. Nonetheless, SKA's discipline, fighting spirit, and Coach Bakri's unique gameplay allowed them to claim maximum points from each game.
However, SKA drew their last game against Hockey Innovative instead of winning, concluding the tournament with SKA attaining 16 points in the league out of six games. Vavel interviewed head Coach Bakri after the match against Hockey Innovative.
This is your first championship with Khalsa since taking over a year ago during Covid. Looking back at those challenges, such as insufficient players and restrictions in place, how do you feel about this achievement?
"First, I would like to thank the President of the Khalsa Hockey Club for trusting me to lead the team. In the beginning, we only had seven players, and we bounced from that to about 25 players now. It feels great to have achieved that. However, the number of players is not as crucial as how the team performs. I continued to strategize and make changes to my team. With trust and confidence from the players, we made it. I feel delighted to be part of this journey."
Kang Zheng has been extraordinary throughout this season. Does this drive you to develop younger players in the club?
"Kang Zheng played brilliantly throughout the league with help from his teammates. I hope there are more young players like him. I always look forward to developing many of these unique talents."
You had managed the Gurdwara Cup team before the league. How is the experience different with the league, and how did the players who didn't feature in the Gurdwara Cup team add value to the team?
"As many as 70% of the players were from the Gurdwara team. They imported the experience of playing from there to the league. Playing with internationally experienced players is a different ball game, and their experience gave them a positive impact in terms of physical and mental well-being. This is one of the good achievements. I believe those not in the Gurdwara Cup played important roles too. They were swift to catch on, showing great effort as a team player."
On paper, throughout the whole league, your opponents seemed stronger than your team due to their level of skill and experience. How did you prepare your team to overcome the odds?
"Every game, I come up with a strategy to counter the opponent. The players played hard and were quick to adapt to changes. They kept the spirit high till the referee's last whistle. Players put up a great fight against the opposition, and teamwork was exceptional. The most important thing was the discipline of each player."
What are your plans for the team, and can we expect to see more changes for Khalsa Hockey next year?
"Khalsa team got a place in Premier League 1. In Premier League 1, most teams are experienced and strong, and some also have several national team players. We must start preparations early this year for next year's league. We will need to strengthen our physical strength and stamina. A lot of strategic planning and observation are required. I also plan to increase the number of friendly matches so that the players can gain more exposure. I also welcome any players who are keen to join the Khalsa team. Together we can take this team to the next level."
Singapore Khalsa Association National Men's Hockey League 2 tournament statistics:
Singapore Khalsa Association 1:0 Singapore Recreational Club
Singapore Khalsa Association 6:0 Barkerites Hockey Club
Singapore Khalsa Association 2:1 Police Sports Association
Singapore Khalsa Association 2:1 Singapore Cricket Club
Singapore Khalsa Association 5:1 Tannibellies Hockey Club
Singapore Khalsa Association 2-2 Hockey Innovative
SKA Team Facts:
Captain: Geneth Kumar
Vice-captain: Gurvinder Sidhu
Top scorer: Lee Kang Zheng
Most assists: Rohinthiran S/O Selvaraj
Most Clean Sheets (GK): Dilraj Singh