How many of ardent fans or followers of Indian hockey remember the great contribution made by Sansarpur, Khusropur and Mithapur in the development of the game. The name of only Indian town that has become synonymous with Indian hockey now is of Shahbad, a small sleepy town, 75 km from Chandigarh.
By Prabhjot Singh
Shahbad is neither an industrial town nor an education centre. Till 1995, it was known more for its historic temple named after a Hindu saint, Rishi Markandeya, a great follower of Lord Shiva.
Now Shahbad is one of 20-odd Indian towns that have a synthetic hockey playfield. Incidentally, this is one town that has produced captains of both Indian men and women teams. As chance would have it, both have the same name. The men’s skipper has been famous drag flicker Sandeep Singh while Sandeep Kaur led India’s women team. And again it has been Shahbad girl, Surinder Kaur that led India from front to help it win the first Champions Challenger II in Kazan, Russia, on June 27.
Though Haryana cannot match the contribution of its neighbour Punjab in the field of hockey but it has earned a name for itself during the past 16 years, producing 27 women and six men players who represented India in various international tournaments, including Olympic games, World Cups, Asia Cup and Asian Games.
Until early 1990s, the town did not have even basic facilities, including a hockey field. One of private schools had an uneven and unkempt playfield. Both girls and boys, mostly from poor families, not only worked hard to convert it into a lushful green hockey playfield but also made their presence felt with some superb performances in the tournaments they played. Be it schools tournaments or even state and national championships. They earned a niche for themselves because of their superb ball control skills, delectable body swerves and their commitment to the game.
Impressed by the immense contribution of selfless upcoming players, S S Dhesi, the then Director of Haryana Sports Department, got an astro-turf laid at Government Senior Secondary School, the current venue of the hockey nursery. The stadium also boasts of an ultramodern gymnasium.
Since 1996, hardly any Indian women’s hockey has team left the shores of the country without Shahbad Markanda represented on it. In the men’s section, who does not remember Sanjeev Kumar and now Sandeep Singh? They both came from the same training centre.
When India won the first Champions Challenger II gold at Kazan in Russia, five girls from Shahbad were in the playing XI. These girls – Jasdip Kaur (goalkeeper), Joydeep (fullback), Surinder Kaur, Ritu Rani and Ritu Rampal (all forwards) – not only warned the cockles of the hearts of the followers of the game back home but also impressed the spectators and other teams with their superb ball control and display. They have given their message that now Shahbad has come to stay on international scene.
Surinder Kaur, who was declared player of the tournament, deserved the award much more as it came just 15 days before her 27th birthday. She scored five goals in the tournament. When Surinder played her first national championship for Haryana in mid 90s, she emerged top scorer with 33 goals to her credit. Nick named
‘Goal machine”, she has been one of most prolific goal scorer for India for the past 10 years. In fact, she is first of four speedy and crafty centre forwards Shahbad has contributed to the nation.
Two of her colleagues – Ritu Rani and Rani Rampal – in Kazan also did extremely well. Rani Rampal, now a student of grade 11 at Government Senior Secondary School, was tournament’s top scorer with an individual tally of eight goals. Ritu Rani scored three goals, all against Canada. Of 26 goals scored by India, 18 came from three Shahbad girls, a no mean achievement.
For bringing Shahbad on international hockey map, credit cannot go to anyone else but coach Baldev Singh. For the past 15 years, he has been working with the girls, both in the mornings and evenings, turning them into national stars.
He was also associated with the training of Indian men’s team as a colleague of Rajinder Singh Senior. Rajinder-Baldev team produced excellent results.
Suman Bala, Rajni Bala, Bhupinder Kaur, and Sandeep Kaur – she captained India – Rajwinder Kaur and Joydeep Kaur has been some of outstanding fullbacks to play for India. A future star, Jaspreet Kaur, is shaping up well to man India’s defence in future international matches. This may be because of the reason that their coach, Baldev Singh, had been a fullback himself during his playing days.
Besides Jaspreet, other promising youngsters ready for national recognition are Meenakshi Junior, Sandeep Kaur Junior, Monica and Jasjit Kaur.
Only sad aspect of Shahbad’s matchless contribution has been that six of its top players, lost their fathers early, and were single-handedly brought up by their basically illiterate and hardworking mothers.
Since Shahbad does not have much to offer for entertainment and pastime, the only pastime for girls has been hockey. They all eat, sleep and dream hockey.
Prabhjot Singh (India) is journalist for Tribune Mail.
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