CHENNAI: On Tuesday, when India were taking on Sri Lanka in the Nidahas Trophy, Twitter was celebrating the presence of three Tamil Nadu players in the Men in Blue’s XI.That was not really surprising, since it’s a state that’s been focussing more on cricket rather than any other sport. The same enthusiasm isn’t applicable for a sport like hockey, where it’s been a decade since Tamil Nadu players have donned the blue jersey, or have even come close to selection. For a state which has produced the likes of VJ Peter, Susainathan, and V Baskaran, hockey has gone into a slumber.
Former Olympian Selvaraj Thirumal Valavan cited lack of match practice as one of the main reasons for poor performance of players, even at the national level.Valavan, who was present at the Indian Bank state-level invitational men’s hockey tournament, said: “Only two times we came close to even clinching a national title, in 1997 and 1998. Participating is pointless when the team cannot win tournaments. For a team to shine, it has to get the basics right. The basic here is having lot of match practice. Practising just 10 days before an event won’t work. Also, where they practice also matters.”
Finance also plays the role of a stumbling block in that regard. For instance, players have to pay a certain sum in order to utilise the astro turf at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium, a cost that is now turning out to be unaffordable for them.“During our days, we didn’t have the situation where you have to pay more for using the turf. But now, teams have to spend nearly Rs 3,000 to Rs 3,500 per session, which is not reasonable. Thus, they are forced to compromise in terms of the right surface. This foundation has to be strong. In fact, the ground has to be given free for the state team’s preparation,” said the player with 172 international caps to his name.
Then comes the next concern. When players play less on astro turf, their adaptability to conditions takes a hit. Valavan opined that the state needs more quality turfs to elevate players to the next level.
“Tamil Nadu doesn’t have a lot of quality turfs. Chennai, Kovilpatti and Madurai have one each. Apart from them, there are not many. But even for inter-district tournaments, we need to conduct tournaments on turf. Playing on grass for a period and then shifting gears to a turf won’t yield results.By the time all other teams get accustomed to turf, we wouldn’t have even taken the first step in preparation. That’s why we need to build more turf venues so that we get enough practice.”