Indian hockey owes a lot to Dilip Tirkey(Comment)

May 8th, 2009 - 7:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Sachin Tendulkar By K. Datta
Dilip Tirkey is one of those rare gems that any country would be proud to have. Tirkey’s milestone of becoming the highest capped hockey player in the world during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia, last month went almost unnoticed. He equalled the world record of 401 internationals, held by former Dutch captain Joren Delmee.

One would have thought that Tirkey’s homecoming would be celebrated, some sports lover or association would come forward to host a party, order a cake and champagne. But such courtesies are reserved only for cricketers.

Instead, Tirkey quietly returned home with the triumphant Azlan Shah team, and again left for Malaysia this week for the Asia Cup that starts Saturday.

The unassuming player from Sundergarh, Orissa, who has given his everything to the sport, deserved better treatment.

Tirkey belongs to that hallowed circle of international sports heroes who are above such things like the honour of leading the team. Tirkey is to the Indian hockey team what Sachin Tendulkar is to the cricket team. Their very presence is a source of strength.

The tough full-back has come a long way since he had his international baptism as an 18-year-old. He has three Olympic Games (Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004), and as many World Cups, Asian Games and Asia Cups, and four Champions Trophy tournaments behind him.

If only India had qualified for last year’s Beijing Olympics, he would have been only the fourth Indian to have played in four Olympic Games, Udham Singh, Leslie Claudius and Dhanraj Pillai having done so before him. No Indian hockey player could have missed Beijing as badly as Tirkey.

Tirkey has a lot of hockey left in him. The day is not very far when he will touch the mindboggling figure of 500 international caps for India who have a busy season or two ahead what with the Asia Cup next month in Kuantan, Malaysia, and the World Cup and Commonwealth Games next year in New Delhi, with a European tour and other international engagements in between.

The 500 milestone would be like climbing the Everest. If Tirkey has talked of retirement after the 2010 Commonwealth Games one can understand. Only he knows how much more his body can take.

Comparisons in the fast changing game of hockey are risky. Tirkey’s tackling reminds older students of the game of another stalwart tackler Michael Kindo of the 1970s. But Tirkey’s sturdier build makes him look more formidable.

One remembers with horror the day at the New Delhi’s Maj. Dhyan Chand Stadium a few years ago when, rushing out defending a penalty corner he took a drag flick by Pakistan’s Sohail Abbas, then the world’s best at it, smack on his face. Taking a 150 kmph or so hard hockey ball on an unprotected face can even be fatal. Like everyone else in the stadium that day, Sohail also had his worst fears. It could have been the end of any hockey player’s career. But the intrepid Tirkey made an admirable comeback. No way you can keep tough men like Tirkey out.

Last month Sandeep Singh, the young captain and drag flick expert of the recent Azlan Shah Cup-winning Indian hockey team at Ipoh, Malaysia, was adjudged man of the tournament.

But every scorer is aware that no matter how many he may score or how many headlines he may find his name in, you can’t win tournaments without the support of doughty tacklers in the defence who prevent opponents from scoring against you. Sandeep has handsomely acknowledged the role of his senior and former captain Dilip “Bhai”, as he deferentially addresses the elder statesman of the team.

(08.05.2009-K. Datta is a veteran sports writer. He can be reached at dattak2007@rediffmail.com)

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