Neglected hockey hub gets attention

Just once during his career, Manohar Topno, a 1984 Olympian from Ranchi, got a financial reward for his hockey skills the Rs 11,000 he pocketed after India won silver at 1982 Asiad. On Sunday in the same city, his 20-year-old son Sumit Topno was bought for Rs 1.5 lakh by Hockey India League (HIL) franchise Ranchi Rhinos. Topno Sr is pleased with big money coming to the game but he is more excited about a professional set-up taking shape in a much-neglected hockey hub.

For years several players, mostly tribals, from this hockey outpost in Jharkhand have defied odds and made it to the national team. But many more, not willing to take the leap into the unknown, have given up. Early forays by Rhino talent scouts to state government-run academy at interior Kunthi prove this point. "We can make at least 10 junior teams," says a franchise representative in Ranchi. While Delhi, Mumbai and Punjab, where three of the four HIL franchises are based, have had professional hockey league teams in the past; for Ranchi this is a first.

Hockey's East-side story holds a lot promise. Players who till very recently had little clue about the happenings in the ever-evolving game will now be rubbing shoulders with its best thinkers. Young Topno will get to play under German two-time Olympic gold-medal winning captain Moritz Fuertse, the team's marquee player with a reputation of being a fine mentor. He will get an idea about the work ethic and philosophy that successful Olympic teams swear by.

Known for their natural athleticism, the Jharkhand boys will now be guided by physical trainer David John, who is credited with the improved levels of fitness of the senior national team, and coached by South Africa's Gregg Clark, the head coach of the Rhinos. The sun seems to have finally risen in the East.

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