Manipur, Mizoram steal the show

The victorious Air India team with the cup after winning the St. Joseph's - TNHA Junior National hockey Championship at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in Chennai.-M. VEDHAN

What was heartening about the two North-Eastern teams was the way in which they approached the game. They didn’t play rough, didn’t question any umpiring decision; they just played spirited hockey, writes K. Keerthivasan.

If only the Indian Hockey Federation focuses on states like Mizoram and Manipur there would be no dearth of talent in the country. Coaches A. K. Bansal and V. Baskaran were greatly impressed by the display put up by the boys from the North East at the recently concluded Junior National Hockey Championship in Chennai.

The Manipur team, in particular, was quite impressive. The players, though short, were sturdy, refusing to give in without a fight. With captain Adheba the fulcrum in the frontline and Joy Chandra proving to be an outstanding finisher — goalkeeper Nash was also quite brilliant — Manipur was hardly troubled in the group stages. It outplayed Karnataka in the crucial group match, but couldn’t maintain the tempo, bowing out to Punjab in the last-eight clash.

Air India, coached by Mohd. Moonis, peaked at the right time to swamp Punjab 5-0 in the final. Deep defender Innocent Kullu emerged the hero for the champions. Riding on the good performances of the forwards led by captain Danish Mujtaba, Air- India played a technically superior game to win the title for the first time.

Mizoram does not have a hockey culture, but the manner in which it troubled host Tamil Nadu in the quarterfinals spoke volumes of its players’ talent. They showed a rare spark that is hardly seen even in players with methodical training.

What was heartening about the two North-Eastern teams was the way in which they approached the game. They didn’t play rough, didn’t question any umpiring decision; their discipline was commendable. They just played spirited and determined hockey.

If Manipur and Mizoram played a high quality game despite not having a proper coaching structure, imagine how they would perform with systematic coaching.

Indian hockey is not in a state of coma as is widely believed. It is alive and kicking. If these boys from the North-Eastern states are nurtured properly and put through systematic training, Indian hockey would benefit immensely.

The issue of over-age raised its ugly head once again. There were a lot of murmurs about certain teams fielding over-aged players. One senior coach, who did not want to be quoted, said that players from four or five teams were certainly over-aged. The organisers, no doubt, scrutinised the birth certificates and other records of the players. But then, at the moment, there seems to be no foolproof measure to check the menace.

THE RESULTS

Final: Air India 5 (Arjun Antil 2, Vinod Kumar 1, Danish Mujtaba 1, Ashish Minz 1) bt Punjab 0.

Third place: PSB 5 (Paramjit Singh 1, Onkar Singh 1, Kuljinder Singh 2, Daler Singh 1) bt Tamil Nadu 2 (Saravana Kumar 2).

Special prizes

Goalkeeper: Rinesh Meitei (Manipur); Defender: Innocent Kullu (Air India); Midfielder: Amardeep Ekka (Orissa); Forward: Vinod Rayer (Tamil Nadu); Player of the tour nament: Danish Mujtaba (Air India).

Most promising players (sponsored by Indian Bank in memory of former international player L. Prabhakar): Sikander Pal Singh (J & K); Joy Chandra Singh (Manipur); Pierr Allen Rajesh (TN).