Adivasi girls power Orissa to victory

The victorious Orissa team with coach Amulyanand Bihari.-

THE Adivasi power is on the rise in women's hockey in India. This was amply demonstrated when the Orissa and Jharkhand teams fought out for honours in the Oil & Natural Corporation (ONGC) sponsored 34th junior women's (Under-19) National hockey championship organised by the Women's Hockey Association in Pune (May 5-11, 2003).

This growing dominance of Adivasi girls coming from the northeastern belt could not have been revealed in a more emphatic manner, than what was done in this championship. The Orissa team fielding girls from Sports Hostel, Pamposh in Rourkela, clinched the title via the tie breaker (4-3) over their fancied rivals Jharkhand which also comprised Adivasis from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Academy. Uttar Pradesh, had to remain content with fourth position against last year's winners Haryana.

The overall superiority of Orissa and Jharkhand could be easily gauged from the manner in which they demolished their opponents in this championship ravaged by last minute withdrawals. Originally 26 teams were scheduled to participate. Bihar and Manipur were the first to cry off — the latter due to fear of SARS. Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chandigarh and Bhopal, were the other teams to drop out without assigning any reason, thus reducing the contest to 21 teams. These withdrawals provided Pepsu, the easiest passage to qualify for the quarterfinals from Group `C' without having to play any match. Andhra Pradesh, a surprise 1-0 winner over Punjab, also entered the last 16 stage.

Fancied Jharkhand began its quest for the title in a whirlwind fashion from Pool `D'. It knocked the stuffing out of Himachal Pradesh 10-0, only to find the latter register a protest against the overage of four internationals — Asunta Lakra, Guddi Kumari, Amruta Minz and Sushmita Minz. The Indian Women's Hockey Federation (IWHF) however, dismissed their claims, when the matter was referred to the parent body by the hosts WHAM. "As per our office records we find nothing wrong with their age," Amrita Bose, IWHF secretary informed the organisers.

The Jharkhand girls thrashed Gujarat 13-0 and moved into the quarterfinals where they sent Delhi, the surprise winners over Bombay — who had booked their return journey — helping them to keep up to their travel schedule — with a clinical 6-0 triumph. They continued in the same dominant fashion demolishing last year's winners Haryana 4-1 for a spot in the final.

Against the backdrop of such awesome power displayed by Jharkhand, the Orissa girls huffed and puffed their way to the final from Group `G'. They began well by conquering Madhya Pradesh 6-0. Uttar Pradesh was the other side to catch the eye. It won the opening match from Pool `H' defeating West Bengal (5-1), but stumbled in the semi-finals against the eventual winners Orissa (3-2) in what could be termed as the best match of the tournament.

In the final, however, Orissa, who had won the title in Mumbai (1999), Chennai (2000) and Jalandhar (2001), held a clear edge. Forwards Bilchan Kispotta and Sarita Hanuman, helped by a resolute defence, had the fast moving Jharkhand Guddi Kumari and Amrita Sewashi, under check. The two inside strikers made several inroads into the Jharkhand circle, and were rewarded, when Basanti Lakra found the mark. Jharkhand fought back to restore parity through Amrita Minz. In the tie-breaker Orissa scored through Anjana Barkla, Sumitra Tirkey and Basanti Lakra, while Seting Soy and Sushila Lakaran, fell just one goal short giving Orissa a 4-3 triumph.

Special Awards: Best Player: Asunta Lakra, Jharkhand; Best Defender: Manjiri Saxena, Uttar Pradesh; Best Forward: Poonam Singh, Uttar Pradesh; Highest scorers: Guddi Kumari & Amrita Sewashi, both Jharkhand (nine goals each); Fair play: Maharashtra (Late Minoo Golakhari Trophy). — Harry David