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BIMAL LAKRA: A Midfield Marvel (2/20/2004)
--B. David
It’s an all-too-familiar sight in the tribal pockets of Orissa and Jharkhand. As one enters these picturesque hamlets, surrounded by hillocks all around and dotted with tiny little huts and rich flora and fauna, what strikes the eye is not just Nature’s bounty, but something else.

Scantily-clad little boys, sweating profusely, all engrossed in a game devised and developed of their own, chasing a round-shaped ball made of cotton, with bamboo sticks which have been curved at the bottom. Among these boys are the future stars of Indian hockey. In fact, these tribal boys today form the backbone of the national team. And they have not been trained in any academy. Some fine-tuning of their skills will do. For, hockey comes naturally to them. As the local elders say, they start learning about hockey in their mother’s womb itself. And one of the more famous names from this ‘school’ is Bimal Lakra. Just like Dilip Tirkey and Lajrus Barla and more recently Ignace Tirkey and Prabodh Tirkey.

The tribals (adivasis) of Orissa and Jharkhand (formerly Bihar) have a special place in Indian hockey. Right from the days of Jaipal Singh Munda, who led India in the Olympics for the first time, to the present Indian team, these tribals have made a special impact on the Indian sporting scene. The tribal pockets of Pamposh and Gumla are the nurseries of Indian hockey which have produced players of repute by a dozen over the years. In these villages, kids play only hockey and it’s a childhood passion for everyone. Bending bamboo branches, into the shape of sticks, hockey is played in every village. Most of the villages inside the remote jungle areas rely on the land and the forest produce for their livelihood and it was from these villages that many a hockey star was born. Hockey competitions form a main part of the village festivals and some times winners slog it all, just for fun and all they get as a prize, is a dressed chicken.

“These are naturally gifted players. They come from very poor families but have that urge to do well. They are very committed and sincere. And all of them work hard and with dedication,” says Narinder Singh Saini, a Sports Authority of India coach from Haryana, who has been working in Ranchi for over a decade with the tribal girls.

And one such gifted player is Bimal Lakra, who has displayed consistent results over the past five years to seal a place for himself in the Indian midfield. Bimal Lakra is any coach’s delight. He is dedicated, sincere and honest. He may not be flashy and flamboyant but he is focused and foolhardy. He may not be articulate to put his thoughts into words like some of his city-bred teammates, but his is intelligent enough to read the game and his hockey sense is second to none in scheming the moves on the field. All coaches like him because of his ability to carry out instructions meticulously and to execute the coach’s plans on the field. He is talented, technically sound and hardworking, and given his penchant for learning, he is bound to stay in the Indian team for a long time if he is nurtured properly.

Born in Simdega on May 4, 1980, Bimal Lakra is one of the six children of Marcus Lakra, a hockey player himself. Though, Lakra Senior played only at the district level, he saw to it that his children get at least the basic necessities to continue their hockey. He even mortgaged his seven acres of ancestral property to bring up his family. But the good thing he did was to encourage his children to play hockey and today he has no regrets. Today, four of them have excelled in hockey and three of them played for India, two at the senior level.

Bimal has been part of the Indian team since his debut against South Korea during the 4-Nation Panasonic Masters competition in Germany in 1998. He played his first senior Nationals in 1997 after playing for the Mohun Bagan Club in the Calcutta league for over a year and never looked back since.

For the next three years, Bimal Lakra was in and out of the Indian team but being a hardworker, he has made sincere efforts to improve his game. In 1999, he played for India in the Test series against Germany, Belgium and Malaysia and in between played in the Asia Cup but missed the 4-Nation tourney in Australia. In 2000, he started with the 4-Nation meet in Spain and was part of the Indian team that played Tests against Canada and Belgium. He also led the India ‘A’ team in the Akbar el Yom tourney and in between played the 8-Nation Poznan Challenge Cup.

In 2001, he was part of the senior India team during the Castrol 4-Nation tourney, World Cup qualifiers and the Azlan Shah Cup but his high point came with the Indian victory at the Junior World Cup in Hobart, Australia. Though he was already a part of the senior Indian team he was still eligible for the junior World Cup and he played a crucial role in the midfield to fashion India’s maiden victory for the juniors at the world stage.

Bima

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