From Simdega to India's blue, Sangita Kumari hits her goal
The India striker had a tough upbringing but that didn't stop her from dreaming big
In the recently concluded three-match Test series against Australia, Sangita Kumari emerged as the top-scorer with two goals, one each in the first two games. Her speed, agility, knack of poaching balls in-and-around the striking circle and ability to score goals have catapulted the 21-year-old from the tribal village of Karangaguri-Nawatoli in Jharkhand to the Indian women’s team.
The forward made an immediate impact on her debut for India, scoring her maiden international goal in a Pro League match against Spain in February 2022. Ever since, Sangita has scored nine goals in the 23 internationals she has played, cementing her place in the Indian team.
Having taken former skipper Rani Rampal’s spot in the team, Sangita helped India end a 16-year drought with a bronze at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. She helped India win the inaugural Nations Cup in December last year and also was the top-scorer with three goals as India won the four-match Test series against South Africa 3-0 in January.
Sangita and her family have seen a dramatic rise career-wise, socially and more importantly financially, considering their humble beginnings. “The financial condition of my home when I was growing up was bad to say the least. My father is a farmer, mother a housewife and I have four sisters and one brother. The house that I grew up in was a mud house, it had no electricity or water supply. We had no money, no good or new clothes, no shoes,” says Sangita remembering her difficult childhood.
But Sangita had hockey.
Born and raised in the hockey-crazy district of Simdega – which has produced players like Olympic champion Sylvanus Dung Dung, world champion Michael Kindo, former India captain Asunta Lakra among others, the tribal girl picked up the sport when studying at RC MS Karangaguri Middle School. “I used to play barefoot using sticks made up of bamboo,” says Sangita.
Sangita became obsessed with the sport when she saw India playing on TV for the first time. “One day our school headmaster organised for everyone to watch an international hockey match on TV. I immediately started learning the skills and moves. After seeing the match, I felt like I can also play for India one day," she said.
That match generated an urge in Sangita to play more tournaments which also helped her earn her first hockey stick when she was named the best player during a school competition. Her skills impressed the scouts who selected her for the day boarding centre at the Astro Turf Hockey Stadium, Simdega, in 2012 under coach Pratima Barwa, who coaches the junior state team and has also produced India internationals like Salima Tete and Beauty Dungdung.
That was the start of Sangita’s professional career, learning and enhancing her skills during the five years she spent at the centre. Soon enough, Sangita started representing Jharkhand in sub-junior nationals followed by junior nationals, guiding Jharkand to multiple medals during the period. Her laurels did not go unnoticed as Sangita was selected for the junior national camp in 2016 under coaches Baljeet Singh Saini and Lakra.
In no time, Sangita made her junior India debut at the five-nation invitational tournament in Valencia in October 2016, scoring her first international goal against Spain in only her second game. The limelight became brighter when she scored eight goals and helped India win bronze at the 2016 U-18 Asia Cup. Apart from several Test matches, she was also part of the India squad at the 2018 Asian Youth Olympic Games Qualifier.
But just as she was rising up the ladder, a major injury forced her to undergo an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery on her right leg, putting her out of action for a year. After undergoing rehabilitation, Sangita returned to action in 2019, playing multiple domestic competitions, most notably helping Jharkhand win the Junior Nationals in 2019.
Her goal-scoring ability, 3D skills, talent at dodging helped her make a comeback to the junior India team for the World Cup – which was scheduled for December 2021 but postponed to April 2022 due to Covid-19 – where India finished a creditable fourth.
Her exposure trips abroad in her junior days in addition to training with the seniors in the camps helped Sangita control her nerves and deliver on big occasions, helping her get selected for the senior team in 2022.
Hockey also helped Sangita get her first job when she got employed by the Railway Sports Promotion Board in August 2021. It was an extremely emotional moment for not just Sangita but also her family. While her father always supported her to play hockey in her younger days, Sangita’s mother was against it, asking her to learn household chores.
“Now my mother says it was her fault asking me not to play. It is because of hockey I got a job,” said the India forward, whose younger sister has also been selected at Simdega hockey centre.
Sangita was so elated when she got the job that she shared her happiness not just with her family but with the entire village. The youngster bought dhotis for the elderly in her village and gifted hockey sticks and balls to the kids. “I wanted to do something for my village. I remember the conditions I had to face when I started. At least the ones playing now should have the basics that I didn’t get. I want them to rise like I did. And it is already showing. A lot of kids in my village started playing hockey watching me,” said Sangita.
Sangita’s village is also seeing better days with the arrival of electricity some years back. When Sangita was selected for the 2022 Commonwealth Games – her second competition in India colours – Hockey Jharkhand president Bhola Nath Singh, who is also the secretary general of Hockey India, got to know that her family will not be able to see their daughter play as they do not have a TV. Singh immediately sent a new TV to their home which the family now uses to watch Sangita’s matches in the blue India jersey.
“But there are still some problems. There’s no water supply at my home. I want to build a proper house for my parents which will have electricity and water supply. That is my aim,” concluded Sangita.