The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stick to natural flair, secure govt jobs

Bhubaneswar, Sept. 11: “Having five players from Orissa in the national team, including the captain, is reason enough for us to celebrate. Our boys are not tired of the revelry yet,” said Amulya Nanda Bihari, the coach at the Rourkela sports hostel, today.

The boarders at Sundargarh and Cuttack, too, are celebrating the victory for the third consecutive day.

Celebrations began on Saturday evening after India lifted the Asia Cup by beating fancied Korea 7-2. But it shows no sign of drawing to a close. Virtually one-third of the team being from Orissa, the state has emerged as a hockey powerhouse.

Hockey is less of a sport and more a way of life here, says Bihari, who has been a coach to Ignace Tirkey, William Tirkey and Prabodh Tirkey, the goal-keeper captain of the Indian team. He has witnessed the rise and fall and now the revival of the game since 1986, a year after the Rourkela hostel was set up.

Bihari, feted with the pretigious Biju Pattnaik Award for his contribution to hockey, pays a handsome tribute to the tribals’ natural flair for hockey. “Children in Sundargarh, Rourkela and Deogarh start playing at an early age — sometimes as early as five, and there never has been a dearth of talent. Scouts for other games have to work hard to spot talent,” recalls Bihari with a chuckle, but in hockey players are there everywhere — in all lanes and bylanes.

It is because tribals are so level-headed that makes them excel in defence, says Bihari.

Another coach, Milton Bilung endorses Bihari. “It’s an all-day and all-weather game for the tribals. Sometimes when tournaments are held, 200 teams participate and it becomes extremely difficult to manage.”

While Christian missionaries made the game popular, lure of government jobs is another reason for drawing the tribals. Almost all good players manage to get placement in Nalco, Railways and Orissa Police. Many lose interest in the game after grabbing the jobs, rued Bilung.

Currently, there are around 115 tribal players lodged in sports hostel such as those at Rourkela, Sundergarh and Cuttack.

Among these, Rajgangpur, Balishankara and Talsara in Sundergarh have produced the finest players so far.

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