Bhopal, Jun 17 (IANS): Olympian Manohar Topno has every reason to be delighted. After all, he inspired Jharkhand to enter the semifinals of the National Hockey Championship Thursday, defeating 20 times champions Railways and defying all odds.
Topno knows what the victory means to his boys who were forced to train on grass in Ranchi as the brand new hockey stadium with a synthetic turf, built at Morhabadi last year for the National Games, was out of bounds for them. It is a mystery why the state team could not practice at the stadium which was at a hailing distance from where Topno and his wards trained.
"This is the pitiable state of hockey in Jharkhand. We could not avail of the facility meant for players. We wrote to the director of sports department, Amitabh Choudhary, to allow us to use the turf. We were told Choudhury was away in the West Indies as manager of the Indian cricket team and in his absence nobody knew who to approach or who has the keys to the stadium," the former defender, nicknamed Black Diamond, told IANS.
The short training camp prepared the boys to face teams that were well drilled on synthetic turf. Topno was visibly happy to see his enthusiastic bunch putting it across the Railwaymen, defying all odds.
"The team has really stood up to the challenge to perform here despite all odds," said Topno, who played in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Topno says it is depressing to think about the national sport, but that has not deterred him from handing hockey sticks to his sons Shashi and Sumit.
On Thursday, he went through mixed emotions as Shashi, 25, played for the Railways, while the 17-year-old Sumit turned out for Jharkhand.
"What will they do, if they don't play hockey?" asked Topno, flanked by his sons.
"I had a tough time convincing my wife that Sumit should play hockey," recalls Topno.
"She wanted him to go for higher studies. I have seen the children of my brother, they are graduates and are still looking for jobs. Shashi has landed a job with the Railways beause of his hockey."
"Is there a greater pride for the boys than playing for the country?" asks Topno, who is a product of the rich hockey legacy of the tribals.
The sport once had a pride of place in the state. Hockey wizard Jaipal Singh Munda captained the team that won for India the first of eight Olympic gold medals, at Amsterdam in 1928. Since then there has been a steady stream of tribal men and women players who have represented the country.
The scene, however, has changed. Hockey is not a priority sport for youngsters in a land of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
"The love for the game was such that we used to make sticks from bamboo. The ball was also indigenously made. We played wherever we found an open space. Now you will find kids only playing cricket. If I happen to see any children playing hockey, I give them some money and ask them to continue playing," says Topno, who also coaches the S.S. High School in Khunti.
The school has one of the three synthetic turfs in the state. The other two are in St. Ignatius High School, Gumla, which also boasts of a rich hockey culture, and in Ranchi.
"We lack basic infrastructure and facilities to develop the sport. I coach around 25 boys and there are only six balls."
Topno feels the Indians follow the European style and the coaches must be trained to follow it.
"Our basics are different and we impart the same techniques to children. The coaches must first understand the European style so that they can train their wards accordingly," he said.