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Shrikant: The lone bird will too fly off shortly. (2/6/2013)
--Shashank Gupta
Shrikant Iyenkar: The lone bird will also fly off shortly

Change is name of the game in Indian hockey. Players got dropped at a drop of a hat, new ones comes all the time, come-backs are not uncommon, captaincy mantle passed on routinely, heads rolled at all levels – coaches, doctor, masseur, manager, and in fact, amusingly, Governing Federation too – yet one name stands starking exception to this. He has been there for almost six years unbelievably. He is Shrikant Iyengar -- the physiotherapist with the Indian national hockey team.

It’s no fluke; there is a reason behind it.

Michaeal Nobbs endorses, “Shrikant is a superb physio! His knowledge and ability to connect with the players is terrific. Ric wouldn’t have taken him on the Mumbai Magicians team, otherwise!”

Shrikant’s beginning was a modest one. A Bachelors in Physiotherapy from KIMS, Bangalore, followed by a training in HOSMAT Bangalore in ‘06, Shrikant spent quite a few months figuring out which sport he wanted to be associated to.

“I worked as a physio for the Indian Oil team in ’06 for the Karnataka Super Division League, coached by Joaquim Carvalho. I had a great time working with players like Viren Rasquinha, Devesh Chauhan. I realized then that these players are real heroes. The stint gave me a strong feeling that this is one sport I want to give all my time and efficiency too,” tells a 32-year old Shrikant, hailing from Raipur.

Opportunity always knocks at the doors of the ones who want to prove their worth to the World. Shrikant moved to Chennai, did a freelance work for free for the Tamil Nadu state team and was noticed well for his work during the Murugappa Cup in the late ’06. This followed an association with the Chennai Veerans in the Premier Hockey League, in early ’07.

shortly, opportunity came knocking the doors of Shrikant. When Carvalho became the national coach, the physio slot was vacant. Coach knew of Shrikant’s talent from a year before when he worked for Karnataka Super Division League.

In comes Shrikant and rest is history.

And what’s so unique about Shrikant that makes him a solid contributor to the team?

“Previously, players used to be scared of talking about their injuries for fear of getting dropped, and never to be picked up again. Now this has changed. On injured, they are not thrown out of the system. Thanks to SAI and HI, we see them through their injuries and rehabilitate. There was lack of information about how to handle the injuries. The idea is to detect the injury at the first stage itself. SV Sunil is a fine example of that. He went through a rarest of rare surgeries and is back in the team, much stronger than ever,” talks Shrikant with conviction.

“Of course it is team work. The doctor, the trainer of the team has a huge role to play. I just feel I am lucky to be here,” says a humble Shrikant.

Well, it’s not so simple to be a physio of a team. As you would observe, being a physio, you need to be very good at your soft skills – communication, relationship, empathy, etc.

“Many players are shy, and they don’t open up so soon. You have to deal with a Punjabi/Oriya fellow with a touch of comfort. At times, you need to speak their language to get a smile from them. The players from Bangalore/Mumbai are extroverts. One has to interact with them differently. And you need to have them open up soon because they need to be educated in terms of injuries, precautions and food-intake,” he shares on how to connect to players.

Short tours, busy schedules, little personal time, plus being a friend, family person, helper to many needy players, can be taxing. It can surely get lonely at times, and being witness to change of players/officials is emotionally draining too.

“One does miss a few players and officials at times. Harendra Singh, Dilip Tirkey, Pradeep Dutta, Bharat Chetri, Baljit Singh, David John are few people whom I fondly remember. Winning together makes you emotionally connected. But then the bottomline is the fact that I represent the country, that keeps me motivated at my work,” says a pensive Shrikant, who idolizes his mother, Mrs. Vijaylakshmi Iyengar. The pride on her face makes his cross all the hurdles.

Having worked with AK Bansal, Joaquim Carvalho, Harendra Singh, Jose Brasa and now Michael Nobbs, Shrikant rates two of his experiences as life changing ones – Baljit’s injury and India’s ouster at the Chile Olympics Qualifier.

“Baljit’s (Singh) injury is something that should not have happened. It shook me. I have never experienced something horrendous of that sort,” tells Shrikant, who turned 31 on 6th of last month.

(The writer prefers not to share the gory and very personal details of what transpired during this unfortunate incident)

“We became traitors to the country after we failed at the Chile Qualifier, ‘08. It changed something in me. It made me mature, better at handling pressure. I promised myself that I wouldn’t call it quits until I see the country competing at Olympics Hockey again.”

So what keeps him going? “Walking off is the easiest thing to do. Even if I can bring about the smallest change, I am here for that,” answers Shrikant.

But sadly, as all good things to a come an end, so will this, or let’s say only for now. Hockey India League, with all possibility, will be the final tournament after which Shrikant takes a break in his association with Indian Hockey. Hereafter, he goes on to pursue his Masters in Australia. We wish him while fondly remembering his passion for hockey sport.

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