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Steady strides for hockey in the city

As Murugappa Gold Cup Hockey draws to a close, prominent names from the state speak about the game’s future, grassroot programs and Asiad

Steady strides for hockey in the city

CHENNAI: After a 16-year wait, international hockey made a successful return to Chennai with the conclusion of the Asian Champions Trophy. The momentum of the sport shows no signs of waning, as the prestigious Murugappa Gold Cup Hockey also makes a return after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This season has been marked by the successful revival of the league in the city, featuring well-known teams from across the country vying for the coveted championship.

On a positive note, Indian hockey has been steadily ascending in recent years. The team’s impressive victories against formidable rivals like Pakistan and China during the Asian Champions Trophy held in Chennai highlight their status as one of the most formidable teams in Asia.

In the context of the ongoing Murugappa Hockey Gold Cup, it hasn’t been the best of outings for the Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu after they were sent packing after the group stage of the tournament. The team’s captain, Mareeswaran Sakthivel, who earned a call-up to the National Team in 2022, along with S Karthi, who recently contributed a crucial goal for India in the Asian Champions Trophy semifinal against Japan, is seeking to extract positive takeaways from the tournament.

Reflecting on the significance of international hockey’s return to Chennai, Mareeswaran underscores its role in shaping a promising future. He suggests a proactive approach to learning by emphasizing that being on the field and personally teaching the game can enhance the learning experience. In his words, “Instead of telling someone how to play the game, if someone gets on the field and starts playing, it’d make learning even smoother.” Hockey’s recent buzz in the city Watching these tournaments and getting to interact with the players will give much-needed insights and confidence to the up-and-coming players, he adds.

Mareeswaran and Selvam Karthi were the only two that have been called up for the national team in the recent past since the likes of Gunasekar and Naveen back in 2009. For this trend to change, the sport must be ingested into the youths right from the very start. A grassroots program will play a major role in shaping the future of Tamil Nadu hockey, and Mareeswaran underscores this by stating, “Through different SDAT schemes, everyone that’s interested in playing a sport gets a chance, but improvisations are much needed; the players need better facilities. There are only about 4 or 5 proper turfs across the state, but the major concern about laying turf is that it needs to be looked after properly; otherwise, it’d go to waste. The local body must ensure the turf is watered as it deems appropriate, and they would require proper tools to take care of it.

Mareeswaran Sakthivel

Proper grassroots program will be a key factor

Charles Dixon, head coach of the Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu, starts off by emphasizing the good impression the recently concluded Asian Champions Trophy has left on the city. “Trainees of different sports hostels from across Tamil Nadu and Excellency boys were invited to Chennai to get exposure to a major league hockey tournament. Today, hockey has changed a lot; the boys from the youth setup who came to witness the matches found themselves in a learning curve where they understood that the game requires more energy and also that the pace of the game has picked up in terms of international level,” says Dixon.

Charles Dixon

Discussing the enhancement of grassroots standards, Dixon says that there is an excellency sports hostel in Kovilpatti and six other normal hostels, but the major concern remains that not all these hostels bear proper hockey turfs, and the youths must be exposed to turf game-play right from their early days to get familiarized with the surface. For example, there is a turf surface in Tirunelveli, albeit incomplete. The majority of the youths, when exposed to turf surfaces at selection camps or trials find it difficult to familiarize themselves with the surface. It is a complete change to their style of play; even the smallest of aspects, such as stopping a ball or taking a shot, becomes difficult, and it pulls down their performance drastically.

“The sports authorities and local bodies should set up more hockey tournaments on proper turf surfaces for the youth to get exposure to the game,” says Dixon.

Speaking about the upcoming Asian Games, “No doubt in the national team this year, they will secure gold hopefully. They carry great depth in the squad; they are one of the strongest teams in recent times. “Ever since Hockey India has come through, the Orissa Government has done a brilliant job in improving the quality and facilities of the National team; the selection standards are higher than ever, and results are evident in the performance of the team across various tournaments,” adds Dixon.

Craig Fulton took charge of the National Team in 2023 from Graham Reid, who helped the team secure a bronze medal at the 2020 Olympics. Speaking about the new coach “The fighting spirit of the team, the never give up attitude, has grown immensely, and it was showcased during the matches against Japan or Malaysia in the final, where the team bounced back in the dying minutes of the game. With this attitude, we’ll go a long way.

Having one among us in the NT draws more attention

Speaking about Selvam Karthi’s presence in the National team, Mareeswaran says, “It is a huge boost of confidence for hockey players from Tamil Nadu to pick up the game; he represents all of us, and having someone from Tamil Nadu play in the National squad will also draw more localities attention to the game. Many people from here will watch the game for him.”

The ongoing Murugappa Hockey Gold Cup, cited as one of the oldest hockey tournaments in the country, has been bubbling with talent. The likes of Sumeet Pal Singh and Harman Singh from the Indian Army Red have put on a stellar show to guide their team single-handedly throughout the tournament.

MCC and its support for Hockey in Tamil Nadu

The Hockey Gold Cup is happening in the city after three years, and President of MCC – B Vijaykumar says that it is exciting to be back, and speaking about the future of hockey in the city, he adds, “MCC will continue to organise the tournament. The previous turf at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium wasn’t really good; we thought of having it replaced back in 2020, but it wasn’t upgraded, but last year, the SDAT and our honourable Sports Minister for the state, Udhayanidhi Stalin, have done a great job in getting the stadium ready.”

By bringing the National team to play in the city and conducting these tournaments, we have to thank them for all their support, states Vijaykumar

B Vijaykumar, President, MCC

As the game continues to grow in the city, many youngsters would need a chance to properly learn and pick up the game. On that note, Vijaykumar adds, “In the past, we used to have regular junior Nationals (U-15, U-18); now it doesn’t seem to be happening, but things are changing for the better.” We can promote the game, bring in world-class players, and get them to play, but the camps and grassroots programs for the game—Hockey India—needs to take it up seriously.

Speaking about the Asian games, the Indian hockey team is a cut above right now; they have been outplaying their opponents, and the team is ranked at number three in the world rankings, so I believe they have a good chance of bagging gold this time around, says Vijaykumar.

Hockey in the city has shown great promise in recent times, and despite a few setbacks, there is optimism that these challenges will soon be overcome. The sport is experiencing significant growth, and with the Asian Games starting from September 23, there’s a tantalizing opportunity for Hockey team India to achieve success, which would be the icing on the cake.

Jayantho Sengupta
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