Penalty Corner!

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Penalty Corner!

                                                   by Deb

For a game that was once so popular that it was unanimously picked as the national sport of India, one would think that the game of hockey hasn’t lived up to achieve the kind of heights, it should have. Since Major Dhyan Chand wielded magic with his stick, the Indian national hockey team hasn’t shown the kind of dominance exhibited by its cricketing counterpart. Needless to mention, cricket has moved miles ahead of hockey in terms of its reach and popularity. The Indian team has come up with only glimpses of excellence that has invariably been built around the odd brilliant player like Dhanraj Pillai. A lack of consistency to sustain a good performance, match after match, has cost them many tournaments. Our last Olympic medal in hockey was way back in 1980, at Moscow. The northern states of the country, primarily Punjab and Haryana, have always been known for producing hockey stalwarts. However, in the last couple of decades, the state of Odisha has produced a few great players who have represented the country at the highest level with considerable élan. This trend was pioneered by the rise of Dilip Tirkey, from the pastoral plains of Sundergarh, as he went on to represent the national team for well over a decade without missing a single international match in the span of his career. Best known for his brilliance as a defender and penalty corner specialist, Tirkey represented India at three consecutive Olympic events, even leading the side in one of them. His rise to the top paved the way for several young Adivasi boys and girls from his village to take up the sport since they could see a future for themselves in it now. The birth of ‘Kalinga Lancers’, the franchise that represents Odisha at the lucrative Hockey India League, has been one of the pivotal factors for the growing interest of youngsters in the game. There has been a steady upsurge in children taking up the sport from a young age, getting exposed to the game from up close. With them winning the 2017 edition of the tournament, the popularity of the game is only expected to sore. Having been in the fringes for long, Kalinga Stadium, situated right at the heart of Bhubaneswar, finally got its due when a state-ofthe- art hockey stadium was built a few years ago inside it. Since then, this stadium has been hosting a string of international and national hockey matches, which has helped the game gain back its lost popularity. All the matches of the 2016 Hockey Champions Trophy, where India finished fourth, were held at the new-look Kalinga Stadium. Even though the host team did not go all the way, the sight of the packed stadium, for each of the games, was extremely encouraging. Now, since corporates have also started sponsoring substantial amounts for the development of the game in the state, one can hope to see many more players from the state representing their country and following on Tirkey’s footsteps. Another player, who also hails from the Adivasi regions of Odisha and has represented the country at major tournaments including the Asian Gold in 2014, Birendra Lakra, is also a skilled defender, like Tirkey. Dilip Tirkey, who is now a Rajya Sabha member and has retired from the game, continues to strive for the development of hockey at the rural level, conducting tournaments to identify talent from various pockets of the state. His dream initiative, Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Championship has created a record in itself, with as many as 1500 teams participating from 900 villages. Spanning across 32 stadiums of the state, the final of the first edition of this ambitious tournament is scheduled to be held on the 5th of March, this year. The future of hockey in Odisha definitely seems to be in able hands, which would guide it towards a glittering future.

 

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