Removed from academy once, Ankit Pal now India’s key player in Junior Hockey World Cup

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Around five years ago when he was 11-year-old, Ankit Pal found his name in the list of players being weeded out from the Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy, Bhopal. He had got admission only a year back after clearing the selection trials. Regular absence from camp was cited as the reason. Hurt and disappointed, Ankit, who hails from a modest background, spent the next year in his hometown Gwalior and made a comeback to the academy after shining in the 2017 trials.

Such was his determination to prove himself that he was not only picked up for the junior national camp in 2019 but also recently made his international debut at the ongoing FIH Men’s Junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

“Back then I had never stayed away from the family so I used to visit my family quite often. Once every month and that led to my ouster from the academy. Obviously, it was a bitter pill to swallow,” the midfielder told this daily.

Ankit’s father Santosh Pal is a halwai (an ordinary local confectioner), who works for different shops. He also cooks during marriages and other functions but the work fetches him a meagre income, which is hardly sufficient for the family of six (husband, wife, and four children). This put pressure on Ankit to perform.

“Even my relatives started questioning my attitude that led to the ouster and that made me more determined to get back into the academy,” said Ankit.

Lokendra Sharma, the MP Academy coach, was initially apprehensive when Ankit returned. However, this time the coach saw a completely different boy.

“No doubt, he was skilful but he was also homesick and that’s why I was doubtful when he came back. However, he proved everybody wrong. He had also grown taller in one year and that gave him an added advantage as a midfielder,” informed Sharma.

Ankit was captaining MP Academy at the junior nationals in 2019 when coach Sharma received a call from Hockey India that his ward has been selected for the junior national camp.

“It was a difficult decision for us as we were doing good under his leadership in the junior nationals but the then sports director believed Ankit should immediately leave to join the camp. The decision meant he managed to break into the national core group, which in turn helped him to earn a place in the team,” added the coach.

Expensive sticks

Ankit started playing hockey in 2013.

“I heard the son of my father’s friend has joined the academy. That motivated me so I started playing hockey,” recalled Ankit.

“Growth of Vivek bhaiya (Vivek Sagar Prasad, another MP player) always fascinated me. His success motivated me and here I am playing for the country under his leadership.”

Mother Seema Pal still remembers the day when her son used to break hockey sticks and the family didn’t have enough money to buy him the new one.

“One hockey stick used to cost around Rs 400-500. But he used to break the stick frequently. It was not easy but his father always made sure that financial constraints do not affect him. I also used to save money so that we can afford his expenses,” said Seema.

Ankit’s only sister Poonam, who is younger than him, also plays hockey and was earlier with the SAI training centre in Bhopal. However, she had now come back home to help her ailing mother.

“I got ill which is why she left the SAI centre. But she hasn’t left the game. She trains here regularly. Ankit is our biggest hope. I know our sacrifices and his hard work will not go in vain,” signed off the mother. 

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