As India turns 70, we celebrate Eight For Eighty - the eight sportspersons who we feel will carry the torch for the next decade.
The story so far
Varun Kumar only had a passing interest in hockey as a child growing up in Mithapur, Punjab. Hailing from former India captain Pargat Singh's village, and going to the same school as current India captain Manpreet Singh made an impact, as young Varun would enroll at the Surjit hockey academy in Jalandhar, going on to play a starring role in defence as India clinched their second junior World Cup title in Lucknow in 2016.
Varun's ability and temperament have long been appreciated in Indian hockey circles, as Punjab Warriors would retain his services for all future seasons of the Hockey India League after first signing him in 2014 when he was still 18. He was an integral part of the squad that won the franchise-based league in 2016.
Varun was a contemporary of Manpreet when he started out in hockey, but failed to match the early progress of his more illustrious friend, who led India at the junior World Cup in Delhi in 2013 and made his senior debut soon after. It took a solid performance in defence in the junior Asia Cup in Malaysia in 2015 for Varun to haul himself back into India contention.
Varun is also a drag-flick expert, and showed that prowess with two goals in the course of the World Cup win in Lucknow, playing alongside the more experienced Harmanpreet Singh. Selected for the senior team for their ongoing tour of Europe, he would impress as one of six debutants in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of hosts Belgium on August 9.
If he can add consistency to the promise shown in his first few appearances -- India have struggled to find defenders who combine their basic function with ruthless penalty corner conversions -- 22-year-old Varun, who wears the number 7 jersey and has also modelled his goal celebration on Cristiano Ronaldo, could be a star for the future in Indian hockey.
"What sets him apart is his calmness on the pitch, as also his flexibility to play across positions. When we first played him at Punjab Warriors, he was employed at left-wing-half. He has also played at left-full-back and right full-back, as also as right-wing-half. His drag-flick is just a bonus."
- Jagbir Singh, former India international and manager of the Punjab Warriors side.