Karnataka triumphs

The Karnataka junior hockey team,winner of the National under-21 championship.-

A bilateral series against strong Mumbai did help. And it was the in-depth study of that series by the coach and the players that paved the way for the stupendous success of the Karnataka team in Pune.

What if the Hockey Federation, be it the long existing Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) or the recent Hockey India administration is in a mess? What if the National team's performances in International outings, barring the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi, is of hardly any significance? Hockey in Karnataka, reposing its faith in some telling changes, is going from strength to strength.

The State team bagged the Junior National championship in Pune recently and did so with some compelling plus points.

A bilateral series against strong Mumbai did help. And it was the in-depth study of that series by the coach and the players that paved the way for the stupdendous success of the State team at the Pimpri Chinchwad Stadium.

Karnataka lost to Mumbai in the bilateral series, albeit narrowly. But the lessons learnt enabled P. Shanmugham to mould his unit into a winning formation.

Shanmugham, a backbone of his team — Canara Bank in the State's Senior Division hockey league — took over the mantle about seven years ago and has achieved success twice already. “In 2005 at Visakhapatnam, Karnataka won the tile, but then it was the Under-18 category. Now it's under-21. It's a title that we need to be proud of,” said the genial coach.

“I cannot single out any one player or session for the triumph. Our manager Sunil Dhiman was meticulous in planning and its execution. There was nothing that any player or I had to worry about and this played a positive role in all we did and achieved. It only shows the advantages of having a person with lots of acumen in that role,” said Shanmugham.

Nikkin Thimmaiah, voted the best player of the tournament and whose twin strikes enabled Karnataka put it across Punjab in the final, was of wholesome praise for the management. “We got wonderful support from our coach and manager and all we needed to do was perform on the ground which we achieved. The match against SAIL in the semis and IOCL in the quarters was tough. But the win against Mumbai in our first encounter gave us the confidence,” said Nikkin.

S. K. Uthappa, the captain and central midfielder, sounded very realistic. “We adopted whatever we were taught during the camp. And it helped. Everybody chipped in with their share and made it possible....and I am proud of the team. Every win made us realise that we could go all the way to the title,” said the strapping 19-year-old.

“Against SAIL in the semis, Karnataka trailed 0-1 till the 60th minute before Uthappa got the equaliser. Then, Nikkin and Poonacha struck in the dying minutes to script a fantastic 3-1 victory. It was a match that involved a lot of body play and rough tactics, but once we neutralised (1-1) they just wilted away,” said the coach.

“The match against IOC was also expected to be tough but our boys played well beyond themselves to carve a fantastic 4-2 victory,” chipped in manager Dhiman.

In the final against Punjab, it was level pegging and the difference was the two Nikkin Thimmaiah strikes.

Without singling out anybody in particular for the success, coach Shanmugham emphasised on “the role of the goalkeeper Jagdeep Dayal, defender Anup Kujur and medios Vinayak Bijwad and M. G. Poonacha, who also scored crucial goals.” Karnataka had won the under-21 title last in 1993 at Bareilly.

A Special Correspondent