Chennai: Sports fans in Tami Nadu have cheered much for Chennai Super Kings and Chennaiyin FC in recent times, but they are now waiting to root for their own in another sport — one that was once very close to the state but stands almost forgotten now due to no representation from the state at the national level for a long time.
The Indian hockey team used to have many good players from Tamil Nadu once. But for the past more than a decade, players from the state failed to get the national break. The 13-year drought has finally ended.
The recently announced Asia Cup squad has two youngsters who have made the cut from Tamil Nadu.
After 2009, this is the first time two players from the state have made it to the Indian hockey team. Previously, Naveen and Gunasekaran had played for India at the Asia Cup. Now, midfielder Mareeswaran Sakthivel and forward S Karthi have been selected for the Indian team that is going to the prestigious tournament beginning in Indonesia on Monday, May 23.
The India hockey authorities have decided to send the India A team to the Asia Cup under the captaincy of stalwart Rupinder Pal Singh. Birendra Lakra is the vice-captain. India take on archrival Pakistan in their first clash on Monday. The match will be played at the GBK Sports Complex Hockey Stadium in Jakarta, and it will start at 5 pm IST.
The Chosen Two
Mareeswaran Sakthivel, who hails from a poor family in Kovilpatti, has been playing hockey since childhood. In his interviews, he has said his only aim was to achieve something bigger in this sport. He had been constantly doing well but not enough to make it to the Junior World Cup team. His hard work finally paid off and he got the call from the India A team.
S Karthi, who is from Ariyalur, is also looking to use this opportunity to give his best to cement his place in the national team.
Tamil Nadu and Hockey
Tamil Nadu got its first hockey Olympian way back in 1936. Ernest John Goodsir-Cullen from the Madras Medical college was part of the team that won the Olympics gold. After him, Tamil Nadu had Ranganthan Francis who was part of the Olympic Gold medal-winning team three times — in 1948,1952 and 1956.
Then came Krishnamurthy Perumal who was a double Olympian, representing India in the 1968 and 1972 Games. He represented India in the 1971 Hockey World Cup also. The last Olympic medalist from the state was Vasudevan Baskaran who captained the Indian side in the 1980 Moscow Olympics that won the last hockey gold for India.
After him, it was Adam Sinclair who represented Indian in the Olympics, and was the last Olympian from the state. Some other hockey greats from the state include Leslie Frenandaz and VJ Peter.
After the 2004 Athens Olympics, Tamil Nadu failed to send any hockey player to the grand event. Many players emerged in the junior ranks but they failed to move up.
Tamil Nadu’s little town Kovilpatti in the Thoothukudi district has been the bastion of hockey in the state for many years. The Tamil Nadu hockey team gets most of its players from Kovilpatti and its surrounding areas. Love for the game in Kovilpatti started long back with the visit of legendary player Major Dhyanchand in the 1950s.
Kovilpatti now has a synthetic turf and also around a dozen hockey clubs.
With the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympics approaching, the young bunch of players going to play the Asia Cup will get good international exposure.