Chinglensana's consistency bodes well for India's World Cup chances

Chinglensana Singh's work ethic is a huge asset for the team Hockey India

Heavy rain forced the cancellation of the Asian Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan in Muscat on Sunday -- the two nations ended up sharing their third title in the fifth edition -- but it also meant Chinglensana Singh missed an opportunity to underline his increasing value in Harendra Singh's team.

Not that how he had performed in the tournament, right from the 11-0 win against Oman, hadn't already marked him out as one of India's key players for the World Cup starting in end November in Bhubaneswar.

Chinglen, as his teammates know him better, plays as a central midfielder and drops wide from time to time to run at defences with bursts of speed. In Muscat, he showed a new dimension to his game with his ability to score off penalty corners (PCs), an area where India were sub-par despite dominating opponents on most other counts.

If India looked dominant, both in possession and off it, against teams such as Asian Games champions Japan, Malaysia and Pakistan, it was largely down to the stability in the middle brought by Chinglen, allowing captain Manpreet Singh to play in more advanced positions.

Chinglen told ESPN earlier this year how the atmosphere in his village in Manipur was conducive to hockey. Chinglen, who grew up with his mother and uncles after his parents separated when he was just a month old, gravitated towards the sport especially after Manipur hosted the National Games when he was six years old. It helped that he had around him international players such as Brojen Singh and Forjen Singh, and professional women players like Chanchal Devi, Ranjeeta Devi and Chanchai Devi.

Brojen particularly was a big help, lending him sticks and shoes in his early years. At 17, Chinglen enrolled at the Punjab National Bank Academy in Delhi after impressing them at a school nationals. He says the spark to excel at hockey came from watching the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games on TV as a kid, and soon after his India debut, he featured in the Indian team that won the Asian Games in 2014.

At 26, he is now one of the most experienced players in a largely young squad, and needs to marshal the midfield after the retirement of Sardar Singh. In Muscat, his greatest contribution came in the semi-final against Japan at just the right moment for the team. Japan had been set up by coach Siegfrid Aikman to contain India, and they did that perfectly for 44 minutes -- cancelling Gurjant Singh's opening goal with a fantastic wide deflection off their first PC and then frustrating Harmanpreet Singh with their PC defence.

Varun Kumar took the drag flick the fourth time of asking, and seemed to delay his attempt just a tad. It was, in fact, done to give time to Chinglen to get ahead of the defenders to goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa's stick side. When drilled in, the ball was deflected perfectly between the goalkeeper and his crossbar.

There was teamwork, planning and, above all, brave and precise movement by Chinglen, who talks of strength and honesty as the most important traits of the Manipuri.

There were more flamboyant performers for India in Muscat, but none as consistent as Chinglen, who will be celebrating his birthday when India play Belgium on December 2 at the World Cup in what could be a pool-deciding game. You get the impression he might just give India the gifts of calmness, strength and honesty in the middle of the pitch on his special day.