Ignace is the hero

The Army XI players celebrate with the Murugappa Trophy.-M. VEDHAN

The sparkling performances of some of the seasoned stars ensured that the Indian team players, busy with the India-Canada Test series, weren’t missed at all. By S. Thyagarajan.

The event that the hockey fraternity in Chennai eagerly looks forward to is the annual MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup tournament. And when the 2009 edition of the tournament was held at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium recently, it was welcomed with a lot of fervour by the aficionados.

The spectator support was overwhelming, at least for the final, prompting the Murugappa Group to hike the prize money for the winner to Rs. 2.5 lakh (from Rs. 1.5 lakh) and the runner-up to Rs. 1.5 lakh (from Rs. 1 lakh). When the Executive Chairman of the group, M. A. Alagappan, announced the increase, it was received with vociferous approbation.

The fear that the absence of the National stars, who were busy with the India-Canada Test series, would affect the interest in the tournament proved to be unfounded, thanks to the sparkling individual performances of the seasoned stars such as Ignace Tirkey, Sabu Varkey, Devesh Chauhan, Deepak Thakur and Dhanraj Pillay.

To say that Ignace played an invaluable role in steering Army XI to the title does not carry even an iota of exaggeration. In almost every encounter, Ignace was the livewire, using his expertise, experience and energy to galvanise the Army attack that comprised Sunil Ekka, Arumugam and Mundu. And what more, Ignace scored the winner for Army XI against BPCL in the final. Army’s goalkeeper P. T. Rao deserves special mention for his consistency, craft and intrepidity.

BPCL depended on the proficiency of its centre-forward Amar Aiymma who never disappointed. Some of the goals he scored were decidedly spectacular, both in their conception and execution. Hari Prasad lent him excellent support in the frontline.

However, the player who dazzled with his astute passing was the evergreen Sabu Varkey. His performance evoked nostalgia in everyone who had seen Sabu in his heyday, sometime in the mid-1990s. Pivot Prabhdeep Singh played consistently well for BPCL. Only that classic strike by Ignace destroyed BPCL’s hopes of a win in the final.

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) profited largely from the impeccable penalty corner strikes by Diwakar Ram, but the sudden-death phase against Army XI saw the team making its exit in the semifinals. Winger Mandeep, Jagwant and Pramod constituted the ONGC attack which always carried an element of threat to the rival defence.

Deepak Thakur proved yet again that the fire in him for scoring goals has not diminished one whit. He was the anchor for IOC throughout with Didar Singh and Hamza Mujtaba lending him support. Deepak kept IOC in the fight till the final minutes of the semifinal against BPCL, scoring two goals after his team trailed 0-3 shortly after half-time.

The failure of the defending champion, Air India, to qualify despite the heroics of Dhanraj Pillay disappointed its supporters, who are indeed a legion. Apart from Dhanraj, it was centre-forward Sameer Dad who impressed in the frontline. The 1-5 defeat against ONGC in the opening match sent Air India crashing out of contention. Equally disappointing was the local champion, Indian Overseas Bank. The team promised much but delivered very little. The 2-2 draw against Karnataka on the opening day raised some hopes, but the team’s showing nosedived thereafter.

As always, the event was conducted with eclat, thanks to the personal involvement of the organising secretary, Arun Murugappan and B.Vijaykumar, MCC hockey committee member.

There were plenty for the supporters in the lucky draw held daily. Some were fortunate enough to win a bicycle as the prize at the end of the day’s programme. Finally, the event left everyone happy.