Tamil Nadu kicked off its campaign at the 13th Senior National Hockey Championship at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium here with a staggering 15-1 win over Assam. Forward Mareeswaran Sakthivel, though, had a relatively quiet game as he played and operated on the flanks in the system designed by coach Charles Dixon.
The 24-year-old, however, bounced back in the subsequent match to help Tamil Nadu register a massive 13-1 victory over Himachal on Sunday. He was named the player of the match for his hat-trick.
“Every match, I strive to give my best. And instead of me evaluating my performances, I feel it’s better for a third person to do that, and this player of the match award is an acknowledgement that I’m doing the best I can,” Mareeswaran said.
Mareeswaran made his India debut during the Men’s Asia Cup held in Jakarta in May last year. His solitary goal in the tournament came in the gruelling 4-4 draw against eventual champion South Korea. India won bronze after a 1-0 win over Japan in the third-place classification match.
Mareeswaran believes that the Senior Nationals still play an important role in the Indian hockey ecosystem. “This is the number one tournament in India because we get selected for national camps based on our performances here. The officials select 60 players from here and shortlist them for the national core group, which consists of 33 players,” he said.
After successfully hosting the Asian Champions Trophy, where the Indian team clinched gold, and the Murugappa All-India invitation hockey tournament, Chennai is hosting another hockey tournament within six months. And that, he thinks, is a step in the right direction for the state.
“Tamil Nadu hosting tournaments regularly will help the junior players a lot. It helps the players to get a practical knowledge of how the game works, even if they aren’t in the playing 11,” Mareeswaran said.
“A lot of Indian team members and players who participate in department tournaments play here. Watching them play will help the local players here extensively.”
With national coach Craig Fulton in attendance, the matches provide Mareeswaran and other budding talents an opportunity to showcase their skills. “We have to treat this like every other tournament. If we do that, it subdues the pressure surrounding us and will help us concentrate on the game more than the external factors. And that will eventually create a positive impact on our performances,” he said.
Mareeswaran’s family was still struggling to make ends meet when he made his India debut. Things, thankfully, have improved since he joined the Income Tax as an inspector after finishing his B.Com. Incidentally, Mareeswaran’s father, Sakthivel, was also a hockey player but had to give up the sport because of monetary constraints.
“One of the main reasons for me getting into the sport is that my dad was a hockey player. He played until the district level but was unable to continue as he had to start working to support the family. He sees my achievements as his own, and that makes me happy. That’s the least I can do for the support that my parents have given,” a jubilant Mareeswaran said.
Mareeswaran’s hometown, Kovilpatti, has a long-standing love affair with hockey. Mareeswaran and fellow striker Karthi Selvam, who trained in Kovilpatti for most of his senior career, are examples of this.
“Back in Kovilpatti, if you take a stroll around my area in the morning, you will see a lot of youngsters playing hockey. If you visit any playground, you’ll be able to see people playing hockey more than any other sport. Our district has seen the game for decades, and it has been imbibed in the minds of kids that hockey is a part of life,” Mareeswaran remarked.
Mareeswaran’s ultimate dream is to represent India in the Olympics. “My biggest aim is to be a part of the Indian Olympic team, and for that, the first step is this tournament. To be a part of the 33-member core group, I must perform well here, and from that, 18 players will be selected for the 2024 Paris Olympics.”
Tamil Nadu, which emerged as the runner-up in the last edition after a 1-3 loss to Haryana in the final, is through to the quarterfinal. The team is currently at the top of its pool with two consecutive wins and a 26-goal difference. Mareeswaran hopes he can help his team cross the final hurdle this time.
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