Sports & Games

World Cup fever grips the cradle of Indian hockey

Written by PaperDabba

Amit Rohidas’s family watch the India versus Canada match at their residence in Sunamara, Sundergarh, on Saturday. (Express photo by Andrew Amsan)

There is a power cut from 6:30 to 7:30 pm in Sundargarh district of Odisha on most days. But Saturday was an exception. The one-hour disruption happened an hour earlier and it ensured that the India versus Canada game, which started at 7 pm, could be watched on television without any interruption. Sundargarh, often referred to as the cradle of Indian hockey, has produced more than sixty international players, including two from the current World Cup squad.

Defenders Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas are two Sundargarh boys plying their trade in this edition of the World Cup. Rohidas comes from Sunamara, the village that has produced the state’s biggest hockey star, Dilip Tirkey.

The scenes at the Sunamara on the noon of the match seemed rather subdued. There wasn’t any talk of big match or nervous excitement among the villagers. In fact, most of them went about their day’s task like any other day. It’s easy to dismiss the villagers as lacking passion for the sport, but a chat with them proves otherwise.

“Isn’t it it obvious that we will be watching the match this evening? A boy from our village (Amit) is going to play and there’s no reason we’ll miss it,” a villager buying groceries said.

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The shopkeeper was quick to add that he’ll call it a day soon because he likes to give the match undivided attention. Some youngsters have decided to watch the game on their cellphones while sitting outside in the open because they want to enjoy the evening breeze along with the game of hockey.

“Earlier, only a few households had a television, so we all used to gather at one place for hockey games. Now everyone has a TV so everyone watches it at their own homes. The only issue is the electricity cut,” Chullu Barla, a village leader said.

It’s an hour to the game and it’s pitch dark outside Amit’s home. The streetlight has fused but the house is lit with fluorescent lamps working on a newly acquired solar inverter. The cot and a few plastic chairs have been pulled out for the family members to sit and enjoy the game. Dipsan — another India international to emerge from Sunamara — Tirkey’s father drops by for a chat and watched the first game, the Belgium-South Africa match, for a while.

“I need to rush home to set up the TV for the India game. Thank goodness they have adjusted the power cut timing today,” he said before rushing home.

At the Rohidas household, mother Gulapi, elder brother Neeranjan and the nephews and nieces have gathered around the TV to witness the game. The match is followed with eagle eyes. Each pass, each shot is being dissected by family members. But any signs of nervousness is masked.

The first real display of emotions happened when Amit appeared on the TV screen round the sixth minute in the first quarter. “Woh rahe mamu (That’s my uncle),” young Tanuja said while pointing at the TV. Mother Gulapi responded with a broad smile, “Yes, that’s babu.” None of the spectators at the Rohidas household made much noise during the game. India’s first goal was celebrated with almost controlled celebrations.

“We don’t like to raise our voice. What’s the point in yelling and just because we like to watch the game this way that doesn’t mean we are any less passionate,” Neeranjan explained almost like it was an unwritten rule at the home.

Mother Gulapi, who earlier did not understand the game, says she knows the sport really well now. She makes it a point to watch all India international games primarily because her son now regularly features in the national squad.

The decibel level remained moderate throughout the game until, ‘Mamu’ converted a penalty corner the 51st minute to make the score 4-1. The Rohidas household was naturally overjoyed and for the first time during match loud cheers and applause could be heard. “It was a good goal and we had a good victory. But we will not celebrate it. We have just reached the quarters and we still have a long way to go,” Neeranjan said.

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