THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Every artist needs a canvas, but a canvas alone doesn’t make an artist. No better example of that is the plight of the national sport in the National Games. The Dhyan Chand Plaza, the first astroturf in the state, cuts a dapper figure. The bounce is even and the surface trampoline quick.
But unfortunately, the quality of the fare has been less than inspiring. There was an inevitable predictability about the mediocrity, with the cream of the hockey fraternity slogging in the Hockey India League. Left for the National Games were a mix of over-the-hill players (those who couldn’t even make it to the throbbing ecosystem of HIL, which has thrown open lucrative avenues for them as support staff, consultants or commentators), fringe players and unheard entities.
Save for former stalwarts Ignace Tirkey and Rajpal Singh. The former was his typically clinical self as Services progressed to the semifinals on the back of his defensive awareness. But Rajpal, as he sometimes is, lost his cool and brandished the stick at the referee, as Haryana blanked Punjab 2-0 to ensure the semifinal berth. The former India skipper is usually calm and gracious, but there have been instances in the past when his temper has frayed. Those who had come to see him roll back his years might have been left petrified. His magic has waned.
But swimmer Richa Mishra did turn back the years, asserting amidst a bevy of up-and-coming challengers that she is still the name to beat with a haul of four gold medals, a silver and a brace of bronze. At 31, she is no longer a spring chicken, and by swimming norms, way past youthful vigour. Add to the narrative, the two-year dope ban (2012-14). To come back and still dominate speaks oodles of her mental strength, for more decorated players have found it difficult to resurrect their careers after serving lengthy bans. No wonder Delhi is still crying foul over her representing Madhya Pradesh.
Meanwhile, Services continued their gold hunt and have opened up a 16-gold lead over Maharashtra, who have usurped Haryana by virtue of more silver medals. Medals in swimming was the difference, as they amassed 11 gold, 16 silver and five bronze whereas Haryana managed only two gold and three silver medals. At this stage, the fight for the top is more or less over. But for the second and third, expect a photo-finish. With athletics coming up, even the hosts would sniff an outside chance.