Even as the Sports Authority of India (SAI) remains stubborn in its decision to close down all sporting activity at the National Stadium after July 31, the Air-India Hockey Academy (AIHA), which is based there, proved yet again why it is the premier hockey institution in the country.
Despite all the uncertainty on whether they would be able to continue after the July deadline, the academy boys won the junior national championships in Chennai recently, defeating Punjab 5-0 in the final.
Speaking to HT, AIHA coach AK Bansal said, "Despite the difficulties, the team produced a brilliant performance to win the title. This is proof that the AIHA continues to produce an impressive array of talent."
The find of the tournament was fullback Innocent Kullu, who was also named the best defender. Captain Danish Mujtaba was named the player of the tournament. "Innocent Kullu was the best player on display. He was the backbone of our defence," Bansal added.
The amount of talent at the AIHA can be gauged from the fact that five members of the academy have been named in the list of probables for the under-21 eight-nation tournament in Germany in August.
Bansal has been named chief coach for the under-21 camp, while his deputy will be Rajesh Chauhan, another AIHA product.
The achievement becomes all the more significant given the fact that the AIHA was earlier expected to close down by March 31. An extension till July 31 was accompanied by disruption of power and water supply to the academy, with the trainees facing an uncertain future. But that was not a deterrent for the team that came up with a dazzling performance throughout the tournament.
The coach is hopeful that after this title the AIHA might just get another lease of life. However, for now, things remain unchanged.
The team will return to the capital on Tuesday, back to an uncertain future.
List of probables for the junior camp in Bhopal (July 7-30)
Goalkeepers: Sreejesh, Mrinal Choubey, Pradeep Kumar, Gurnam Singh, Jawinder Singh, M. Rinash.
Fullbacks: Innocent Kullu, Deewakar Ram, Harbir Singh, Sameer Baxla, Manjeet Kullu, A. Arul S. David, Kuljinder Singh.
Midfielders: B. Horo, Anand Tirkey, Amardeep Ekka, Mukesh Lakra, Vivek, Ranjit Singh, Kartik.S, Lal Rinnanga, O Bonyan, Sapoor Singh, Punjab, Gurpreet Singh Sr, Peer A Rajesh.
Forwards: Shashi Bhardwaj, Deepanshu Bhargava, M. Rizauddin, Shashi Topno, A.B. Cheeyana, Dharamveer Singh, Janardan Gupta, Jagwant Singh, Vinod Rayer, Deepak Kumar, Pramod Kumar, Ezaz Qureshi, Gurvinder Chandi, Amit Kumar, Elden D' Souza, Sarvanjit Singh, Navjot Singh, Danish Mujtaba, Lacchhu Dodrai, Joychandra, Heartlin James.
Chief coach: AK Bansal, coach: Rajesh Chouhan, GK coach: Ravi Verma, trainer: Pradeep Dutta, physio: Mukti Prasad Dash, doctor: Raj Kumar Jaipal.