Vellore boy Senthamizh shines bright for Indian hockey

The 18-year-old, a native of Arcot town in Vellore, played four matches at Johor Bahru including the bronze-medal play-off against Malaysia.

Senthamizh made India proud with a top-grade performance in the Sultan of Johor Cup International junior (U-21) hockey tournament at Johor Bahru recently.   -  K.PICHUMANI

Senthamizh Arasu has done what no Tamil Nadu hockey player has in over half-a-decade: find a place in the Indian XI.

As India’s first-choice goalkeeper Senthamizh did himself and the country proud with a top-grade performance in the Sultan of Johor Cup International junior (U-21) hockey tournament at Johor Bahru recently.

The 18-year-old, a native of Arcot town in Vellore, played four matches at Johor Bahru including the bronze-medal play-off against Malaysia.

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To win a bronze in his maiden international tournament was something Senthamizh cherishes a lot. “It was a great experience. I wasn’t under any pressure. I would like to thank all my coaches: (India junior coach) Jude Felix, Army’s P. T. Rao, Servives’ Mariyappan and Dinesh for making me what I am. I am eternally grateful to them,” said Senthamizh in an interaction with Sportstar here on Tuesday.

That a boy hailing from a poor family — his mother, the lone bread winner works at a Girls High School for special kids in Arcot — could wear the Indian jersey is a testimony to Senthamizh’s hard work and dedication.

“He has quick reflexes, his reaction time is faster and most importantly, his decision making is firm, which is what makes Senthamizh special,” said coach M. Dinesh, who was instrumental in turning Senthamizh, who started out as a defender, to a ‘keeper.

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While studying tenth standard at YMCA Sports Hostel, he joined MEG Boys Sports Company in Bangalore.

At the Army camp, his talent started to blossom. Under coaches Mariyappan (Army coach) and P.T. Rao (Services goalkeeper coach), Senthamizh’s confidence grew and he became a much better player.

Prior to the Sultan of Johor Cup, Senthamizh was part of the Indian Hockey Academy ‘A’ team which won the K.D. Singh Babu All-India tournament in Lucknow. It turned out to be a memorable event for he bagged the best goalkeeper award. “I made lot of good saves. The tournament gave me a lot of confidence going to Johor Bahru,” said Senthamizh, who idolises Indian goalkeepers Adrian D’Souza, P.R.Sreejesh and Akash Chikte.

Considered a mentor for Senthamizh, V. Gunalan, who runs the Yogan Sports Academy in Arcot is surprised with his rapid rise. “But we were confident that he’ll make it big given his hard-work and dedication,” said Gunalan. "We will be happy if he gets a job."

Senthamizh is thinking only of the 2020 Junior World Cup. Sporting the No.16 jersey, which Sreejesh wears, one can hope that he will perform as well as the star Indian goalkeeper if not better.

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