National Hockey Academy springs to life, finally

While a group of about 25 boys and girls each was selected last year, there were neither dedicated coaches nor clear plans on how to go about the process.

National Hockey Academy CEO, M.P. Ganesh, assured that no junior player had been left without direction.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Two years after it was conceived as a platform to train talented youngsters, the Delhi-based National Hockey Academy will finally see the first of its trainees in July after try-outs for the same were finalised over the last week of June.

While a group of about 25 boys and girls each was selected last year, there were neither dedicated coaches nor clear plans on how to go about the process, and that is something Hockey India and the Sports Authority of India seem to have sorted out.

“A list of about 120 boys and 110 girls was received from Hockey India, and 27 boys and 22 girls have been shortlisted. Four have been kept on stand-by in case of any discrepancy after age verification for which we have already sent details. The age criterion was 14-17 years, or those born between Jaunary 1, 2000, and December 31, 2003. The target is to have this batch ready in time for the 2024 Olympics,” Academy CEO, M.P. Ganesh, told Sportstar.

The former India captain and coach, who was brought on board for an initial period of three years, has also been involved in preparing the blueprint for the NHA. The selected juniors will be called up in the next two weeks, and sent to Shilaroo for training.

The trials, though, were not free of controversy. Almost half of those called up for trials were selected by Hockey India’s zonal performance managers B.J. Cariappa and Pramod Bathlaw. Sources confirmed that Bathlaw’s list, comprising players from the northern states, was under scrutiny for recommendations en masse from only a handful of academies and that he had been removed from the post by Hockey India. 

Officials also revealed that he was kept away from the stadium during the trials. The players were tested on fitness, skills and game intelligence, with HI’s High Performance Director David John overseeing the selection. There was also a question mark on the fate of the 25 players selected last year. While some have been moved to the national junior core group, the others have been either retained after the trials or sent back to their regional training centres. 

No junior, Ganesh declared, had been left without direction. “In fact, I spoke to the SAI director general, Injeti Srinivas, to make sure that the kids being sent back to the STCs were re-admitted. We cannot play with their future,” he said.

Ganesh said the next step was to appoint coaches for the NHA. “We want at least one foreign coach in the set-up to train and develop Indian coaches. It has been approved, and we are trying to get things in place,” he said.

Coal India will be the sponsoring partner for the Academy.  “We are also looking at getting teachers for various subjects to visit and teach the kids, who will then appear for exams through open school,” Ganesh said.