CHENNAI: During the 6th Senior National Hockey Championship in April, the Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu faced severe backlash from the media and senior players for fielding a very young side. Five months later, the same set of players held an experienced Air India side to a 2-2 draw in the opening fixture of the 90th All India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup at Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium on Thursday.
It’s not the greatest of achievements, but signs of improvement were clear. Most of these kids have been playing all their lives in dusty mud grounds until recently. With no proper guidance and facilities, these boys have returned the faith shown in them by the coaches and selectors. “All players are from the age group of 20-25. This is the first time we have selected players from all rural districts avoiding senior players from various departments (AG’s, ICF etc),” said Rajkumar, manager of the team.
Speaking to Express, the coaching staff voiced ambitions of contributing at least a player or two to represent the national team in Tokyo 2020. It’s about time too. It’s been 12 years since the Coimbatore-born Adam Sinclair represented India at the 2004 Games in Athens — the last time a TN player was in the national team.
“The current batch has been training together for the last nine months. The boys have been following a strict routine throughout the year. Most of them are still representing their colleges or universities. While they are away, they work with our team over phone,” Rajkumar added.
In Rio, one of the major talking points about the PR Sreejesh-led side was the poor finishing of strikers. Field goals were scarce as the side crashed out to Belgium in the quarterfinals. However, this TN side was composed in front of the net, capitalising on both the opportunities. The hockey fraternity in the state has high hopes from Joshua Bendici Wesley.
Youngest on the fold, Joshua was cool as a whistle as he opened the scoring for the home team. Another important addition to the state side is the introduction of a goalkeeping coach. “K Kadhiravan is an NIS certified coach working with us. All these measures are taken to be more professional in the long run,” said Senthil Rajkumar, treasurer of the team.
Whether or not these efforts will bear fruit, only time will tell. For now, the future looks bright for Tamil Nadu as far as hockey is concerned.
Results: Air India 2 (Osaf-ur-Rehman 30, Gagandeep Singh 58 PC) drew with Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu 2 (Joshua Bendici Wesley 17, Hassan Basha 56 PC). Punjab and Sind Bank 1 (Saravanjit Singh 52 PC) lost to Hockey Karnataka 2 (Pradhan Somanna 21 PC, Nitin Thimmiah 66).