Deep Grace Ekka could not have become anything else. The strong and stocky defender of the Indian women’s hockey team belongs to a district – Sundergarh – in a state – Odisha – that knows of little else other than play hockey. Most of those who go on to play for the country from Sundergarh – and there are innumerable – become defenders.
While some credit it to the sheer bloody-mindedness to be the best coupled with a lack of flamboyance, it has equally to do with the idols they grow up wanting to emulate. And none gets bigger in Odisha than Dilip Tirkey, admired worldwide as a legend of Indian hockey and Odisha sports with over 400 international caps.
“This is a huge achievement for me and an honour. Sportstar has been one of the very few publications that not only continues to give enough importance and coverage to all sports but also perhaps the only one that has managed to continue doing so for so many years. Our seniors used to tell us about how prestigious it was to get something published about you in Sportstar , so to get an award here is absolutely amazing,” Ekka, who was named Sportswoman of the Year in non-cricket team sports at the 2nd Sportstar Aces awards on Monday, said.
At 25, Ekka is already a veteran of more than 200 caps and part of a new generation of quietly confident Indian women hockey stars who are neither desperate for the spotlight nor shy away from it. Often called the biggest prankster in the dressing room and bossing over her team-mates off the field, Ekka remains a complete team player on it. “Even if I save a 1000 goals, the team has to score one at the other end for a win. And once you have that one goal, then everyone has to defend like crazy to ensure the opposition doesn’t score. One player can do nothing in a team game and if I have been appreciated, because the team has performed well, it is because of every one of the 16 girls in the dressing room in any tournament,” she declared.
She also doesn’t look too far back till Tirkey for an icon-- she has one among her contemporaries on the men’s side, Birendra Lakra. But the way forwards, she knows, won’t be easy. Having qualified for the 2020 Olympics, she insisted that the entire team was only looking at improving the 12th place finish four years back. “We were better than that and we know it. We only need to prove it to the world now and we will,” she signed off.
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