CHENNAI: Every league has its ‘big teams’. And these select few more or less dominate year after year, almost making it a given. These teams are often home to some of the biggest stars the sport offers. But every league also has those teams that nurture and guide young talent, giving them opportunities that they would otherwise not get in these bigger teams. Ultimately, when they reach their potential, they move to bigger ponds. This is now a vicious cycle, but such teams have come to accept their place in the hierarchy.
The 90th All-India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup, currently underway in the city, can be classified under this category. You have big guns like BPCL, IOC and ONGC, filled with current India players. Then there is the Mumbai Hockey Association, devoid of stars but going by the motto of giving youngsters opportunities. “Yes, we don’t have any top name, but it’s a good blend of experience and youth. It’s a good platform for these youngsters to show what they’ve got, and through this, they could even earn a call-up to the national squad. We might have the youngest squad among all the teams here. I myself got selected for the camp after playing this event, so it’s a great tournament,” said former India player Vikas Pillay, who is captaining Mumbai. Asked how players are recruited for an event like this, Vikas says it’s all through trials. “We have many clubs operating out of Mumbai, and there are events round the year. That is where talent is scouted, and if they impress enough, they get a call-up to trial for the state team,” noted the 27-year-old.
Mumbai were the only team not to garner a point from their pool engagements at the Gold Cup, but their performance promised a bright future. “We didn’t come her expecting to win the thing. We knew our strengths and weaknesses, knew it would be a tough fight. The main thing was to make sure all the players got some exposure, and get them ready for an event of this magnitude,” opined Vikas.
He himself joined MHA with this thought in mind. “I played for Air India from 2004 to 2015, before joining Customs & Excise in Pune. That’s how I’m playing for the unit, and it was the opportunity to share the dressing room with young and hungry players that made me come here. It’s always good to share experience with young guys,” noted the brother of Olympian Vikram Pillay.
Vikas also urged teams to follow this structure. “Stars who play for India won’t have spots in the team under threat, so they have nothing to lose. But if youngsters are given a chance, who knows what kind of a gem we might unearth,” concluded the midfielder from Pune.