PHL’s introduction game-changing moment for Indian handball, says skipper Atul Kumar

M Sudharshan

May 13 2023
Atul Kumar Premier Handball League

The captain also spoke about the progress the sport has made in the country over the years.

The Indian men’s handball team put up a great show by finishing fourth spot and became the first Asian side to clinch a place in the semi-finals at the recently concluded IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship 2023. Four years back in 2019, India ended ninth place in their maiden appearance in the competition, having won two games, against Ireland and Azerbaijan, in the placement matches.

Khel Now got an opportunity to interact with the men’s handball team captain Atul Kumar, who finished the competition as the most successful goalkeeper (wrt saves). He was part of the national team that won the gold medal in the 3rd South Asian Men’s Handball Championship, 2014. In the same year, he played in the Asian Games held in Incheon, South Korea, and in the next edition in 2018 was appointed as the vice-captain.

Experience playing in IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship 2023

Atul Kumar has been part of the national side for more than a decade but this was his first European trip. The captain iterated, “This was my maiden trip to Europe but India has played in the competition before in 2019. We progressed to the semi-finals and this is one of our best performances to date across all the competitions. All the countries which play handball in Europe are experienced and therefore defeating Malta and Andorra in the group stages was an amazing feeling.

“We hardly had any camp before the tournament and went ahead with a young team. As a captain, I gave the players full freedom to express themselves and give their best on the field while the result will take care of itself. Ahead of the tournament, we watched a few video clippings of Malta and Andorra which helped us understand their game style.”

India delivered the best attacking performance at the end of the group stage, scoring 59 goals in two games and were on a four-match unbeaten streak (India won the last two matches in the previous edition in 2019).

“In the semi-finals, we lost to Cyprus which was a close encounter. At the end of the first half, India were leading by two goals and the lead continued till the 45th minute but somehow they made a comeback and the match, in the end, did not go in our favour losing (37-42).

“As I said before, we had a young team so eventually we lacked experience but going forward with the experience I believe the results in close matches will definitely go in our favour,” he added.

Indian Sports Live Coverage on Khel Now

Infrastructure in India

Atul Kumar said, “To be precise, in India we generally play and practice outdoors but in Europe the sport is only played indoors. The atmosphere is totally different when we shift playing from outdoors to indoor courts. (For example in cricket if the players are asked to practice with tennis balls and on the contrary are told to play matches with leather balls). Overall there is good development and by finishing inside the top four, we can see how much the sport has evolved in India.

“The infrastructure is slowly improving and with the introduction of PHL (Premier Handball League) the sport is moving towards a positive direction.”

Individual Performance and experience leading the side

Atul Kumar had the largest number of saves (37) at the end of the group stage with a saving efficiency of 40.6 percent. He also finished inside the top 10 goalkeepers list at the Asian Handball Championships held last year.

“I finished as the most successful goalkeeper (average of 16 saves per match) in the competition. An average of 15 saves or above per match is considered to be the best and going by that, I have achieved what I wanted to individually. My performance has been on the rise for the past year and last year, I finished inside the top 10 at the Asian Handball Championships.” 

Atul also shared his feelings on being appointed as the captain on his maiden European stint, “It was a great feeling to be appointed as the captain of the national team. The team majorly consisted of junior players and I was one of the most experienced players. During match days, I motivated the players to perform well and asked them to stick with their basics.

“I also ask the players to not worry about the results but rather focus on the game-play. If the team loses, I would take up the full responsibility and if the team wins then it is with respect to the team’s overall performance. We gave our best against Cyprus but the result did not go in our favour. Next time we will be motivated to beat them.”

Importance of PHL to India’s handball ecosystem 

Premier Handball League is India’s first professional handball league with the inaugural edition set to take place this year. The League consists of six franchises and Atul Kumar was selected to be a part of Rajasthan Patriots at the auction. Several top Asian players are set to be a part of this prestigious league and this should enable Handball to take giant strides in development.

“The introduction of PHL will be a game-changing moment for Indian handball. It was supposed to start a few years back, but due to the pandemic, the tournament got postponed. Handball will also become one of the most popular games in India with its fast-paced nature.

“The sport has got a good fan following, popularity and is one of the fast-played sports in the Olympics. We get to see goals every 10 seconds which keeps the fans engaged with the game. Overall the game is quite entertaining and the people like the game due to its nature.

“With the introduction of PHL, the players will get more game time and good match exposure by playing alongside top Asian players. Kabaddi became so famous with the introduction of PKL (Pro Kabaddi League) and similarly, I hope Handball too becomes popular.”

Why Handball?

“I started my career by playing cricket during my school days. But after a few months, the journey did not move on and that was the time when I chose Handball (which was the other sport left in the school). Also, I wanted to take up sports and did not have much interest in studies. The performances in my first two national championships were good, which enabled me to take up the sport with full passion.”

For more updates, follow Khel Now on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and join our community on Telegram.

Khel Now Logo
© 2023
Agnificent Platform Technologies Pte. Ltd.