Tracing little Kanta's journey from Railway TC to representing India at Hockey World Cup

Updated: 01 December, 2018 08:30 IST | Ashwin Ferro | Bhubaneswar

Nilakanta Sharma, a short-statured hockey midfielder, shares his experience of working as a TC for Western Railways and representing India at the World Cup

India's Nilakanta holds a backpack he intends to buy at a sports apparel store in the Fan Village at Bhubaneswar yesterday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
India's Nilakanta holds a backpack he intends to buy at a sports apparel store in the Fan Village at Bhubaneswar yesterday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro

It's easy to miss young India hockey midfielder Nilakanta Sharma in a crowd given his short stature — he must be hovering over the five-feet mark. But his tall hockey ability landed him a spot in the India team for the World Cup here. And in his first match against South Africa on Wednesday, he did well to hold his own. There were no mistakes in his passes and positioning but that doesn't mean there were no nerves.

"It's such a big stage, so I was obviously nervous before stepping onto the pitch in front of a packed stadium. But once the whistle blew to indicate the start of the match, all the nervousness vanished. I'm lucky that I'm able to represent my country at a World Cup at home. Not many players get this opportunity," Nilakanta tells mid-day at the Kalinga Stadium's Fan Village yesterday where some of the members of Team India were seen strolling around, shopping and generally chilling.

City of dreams
Nilakanta began playing hockey in his football-haven home of Manipur and moved out for better prospects to Bhopal at the tender age of 16. From there, he headed for the city of dreams, Mumbai in 2014, where he rubbed shoulders with some of the country's best hockey players while playing for his employers Western Railway in the MHA Super Division and the Guru Tegh Bahadur Cup. "Hockey in Mumbai is very competitive and I learnt a lot from my WR coach Sunil Singh," says Nilakanta, 23, who made his senior India debut against Belgium in July last year during the Europe tour.

He has just 25 international caps to his name and is employed as a Jr Ticket Collector, positioned at Charni Road Station. "I live in Matunga but with the national camps almost year-round, I'm not much in Mumbai nowadays," says Nilakanta, who was part of India's 2016 Junior World Cup winning team in Lucknow and is awaiting a promotion. "As a Jr World Cup-winner, I'm due to be made Sr Ticket Collector soon. I think before the World Cup is over that should happen. I like Mumbai, it's busy," he says. So has he chased any without-ticket travellers while on duty, we ask in jest. "Yes, I've caught many of them, but fortunately I've not had to chase down anyone," he says with a laugh.

Caring teammates
And what's life in the senior team like? "It's fun. I'm short, so I'm like the younger brother in the group and everyone takes care of me," he says, checking out a branded backpack at one of the sports apparel stores in the Fan Village. He intends to purchase it but hesitates and eventually puts it away. Just then, skipper Manpreet Singh shouts out from another corner of the store, holding the same backpack in hand. "Kanta, you wanted this bag, na? I'll order it for you, don't worry," he says.
Team India sure does look after little Kanta!

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First Published: 01 December, 2018 08:15 IST

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