It’s a pleasant coincidence that in cricket and hockey, the two most important sports in the country, two Indian captains have assumed responsibility as presidents of their respective national federations.
If former India skipper Sourav Ganguly made a successful switch to cricket administration, ex-India captain Dilip Tirkey won the Hockey India (HI) election on Friday to step into the national scene of hockey administration.
Incidentally, All India Football Federation is now headed by former India player Kalyan Chaubey, while the Indian Olympic Committee’s president is former athlete Adille Sumariwalla.
Dilip will have multiple challenges to tackle while trying to win back hockey’s fans through overall development of the sport.
His election to the sport’s top post prompts one to look back at his amazing journey from the remote tribal village of Saunamara in Odisha’s Sundargarh district.
Born in a family of hockey players on November 25, 1977, Dilip progressed from being a young student of the B.S. High School to becoming one of the all-time great defenders of Indian hockey. He played 412 international matches (the highest by an Indian) in his career spanning from 1995 to 2009 and performed the role of a solid full-back and a utility penalty corner hitter.
Dilip combined with his fellow Sundargarh defender and friend Lazarus Barla to form a solid defensive wall for the country in major competitions, including the 1997 Junior World Cup in Milton Keynes, 1998 Asian Games and the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
His dedication to the sport and the country was of the highest level. Despite being a docile and soft-spoken person, Dilip was brave on the field. During an international match at the National Stadium in Delhi in 2004, a blazing shot from great Pakistani drag-flicker Sohail Abbas hit Dilip on the right eye while defending a penalty corner. The injury shook Dilip to the core but could not dissuade him from the sport.
Dilip served Indian hockey with distinction. He was the second tribal player to captain India in the Olympics after Jaipal Singh Munda in 1928, played in three Olympics (1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens), three World Cups and three Asian Games apart from Champions Trophy and Asia Cup.
He was part of the Indian team that won the 1998 Asian Games gold and 2007 Asia Cup title. He captained Hyderabad Sultans to title win in the inaugural edition of the first ever hockey league, the Premier Hockey League, in the country in 2005 and then led Orissa Steelers to the champions’ tag in the event in 2007.
After hanging up his stick, Dilip switched to politics and became a Rajya Sabha member on a Biju Janata Dal ticket. He fought elections and took to social service, but kept in touch with hockey.
Later, backed by the state government, Dilip became the chairman of the Odisha Hockey Promotion Council before getting into federation politics through a new body, Hockey Association of Odisha.
As Odisha is all set to host the prestigious men’s Hockey World Cup for a second consecutive time, simultaneously at Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, early next year, Dilip’s rise to the HI helm has unfolded as a well-written script.
The hockey fraternity would expect Dilip to lead the sport again, in a different role on the track of development.