Birendra Lakra returns to action on home turf

In February 2016, Birendra Lakra crashed during a Hockey India League game and hurt his knee. In March, he underwent surgery. On Friday, he would take to the field against World Champion Australia in India’s opening game of the Hockey World League Finals, almost two years since that injury.

Lakra credits the federation for not leaving him by the wayside in this period.   -  Getty Images

In February 2016, Birendra Lakra crashed during a Hockey India League game and hurt his knee. In March, he underwent surgery. On Friday, he would take to the field against World Champion Australia in India’s opening game of the Hockey World League Finals, almost two years since that injury.

It had turned out to be a ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) – an injury that is fairly common among elite sportspersons but one of the toughest to come back from and requiring loads of rehabilitation and recovery. Another freak injury in the same knee only delayed the return. In between, he was tried out at a six-nation test event before Rio Olympics and the Asian Champions Trophy after but neither inspired enough confidence among the management to cement his comeback.

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The 26-year old admits it was a tough period. “These were very tough 1.5 years. After any injury, negative thoughts are common, there are lots of things that go through your mind, lots of things happen. It was not impossible but it wasn’t easy either. The biggest factor in my recovery was the support from Hockey India, the staff and entire team and my family. I was determined to come back,” Lakra told Sportstar after the team’s practice game here on Tuesday that saw the coach use him optimally on field and express satisfaction at the end of it.

Support from the federation

He credits the federation for not leaving him by the wayside in this period. “If I had had time to think about it or stay alone away from the game, things might have been different, frustration seeping in and desire lost. But the management did not allow that. All through this period I was always included in camps, kept with the team all the time and trained with them. I was not dropped from the side even once and given every support and treatment so it was always in the back of my mind that if I do my best and work hard then I will be back,” he adds.

That doesn’t mean he did not have the low periods. Staying away from the game was not easy for Hockey India’s 2015 Player of the Year. “Injury hai to time to lagega (it will take time to heal). You think you have to start everything all over again, and when that doesn’t happen because your body is not supporting you, it gets irritating. You try to do something, it doesn’t happen, it’s frustrating. You start doubting yourself, you watch others practice and keep thinking about your return to play. But everything has to move forward step by step, you cannot just run out on the field. But all that did not break me, it only increased my motivation to work harder on my comeback,” Lakra adds.

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He is not glad he did not rush. The long layoff has resulted in his getting to display his wares in front of an adoring home crowd that considers him the biggest hero after Dilip Tirkey. “It feels good to come back to world level hockey on home ground. As local boys (along with youngsters Amit Rohidas and Dipsan Tirkey) obviously the crowds expect us to do well here. I am preparing myself for the same now, focus on my game, do my best for the team and give the crowds something to cheer,” he signs off.