New Delhi: India Colts defender/ dragflicker Pratap Lakra is yet another prodigy emerging from the tribal belt of Sundergarh district in Odisha which is a hotbed of talented hockey players. From a small hamlet called Beldihi near Sundergarh, hockey came naturally to Pratap whose father and sister were already popular in that region for their innate abilities on the field and earned recognition for the family at the famed Khasi Tournament where the prize is a rare breed of goat meat to feast on for the winning team.
"For me, hockey was a natural choice. Everyone in my village played the sport. My sister had played for the state and my father was a regular at the Khasi tournaments. I was very young when I picked up the stick and I knew hockey would be my future," said Pratap Lakra.
In 2012, Pratap joined the Panposh Sports Hostel where he would often have the opportunity to learn from hockey greats Dilip Tirkey and Lazarus Barla who would spend a lot of time grooming these youngsters. "At Panposh, when I started playing, there were a lot of talented players like Amit Rohidas, Stanley Victor Minz among others who were very good and our exposure to the game there was excellent with Dilip bhai and Lazarus bhai visiting us regularly and coaching us," Pratap recalled.
Since his entry into the Junior National Camp in 2017, Pratap knew only hard work and better understanding of the game would eventually help him don the Senior India jersey. "Since the Senior team also trains in Bengaluru where we have our National Camp, whenever we have a rest day or when the Senior Team is playing an internal match, we go and watch them. I particularly follow Rupinder Pal Singh for his dragflick execution and in terms of defence and game I follow Birendra Lakra. Both are very experienced and bring a special skill set to the team and watching them helps me improvise my own game," says Pratap, who works as a Ticket Collector in the Railways.
With the Odisha State Government taking keen interest in promoting the sport and having invested in High Performance Centres across the state, Pratap feels many more youngsters like himself will be benefited from the programme. "The initiative is great. In Odisha, talented players are in abundance but with the High Performance Centres, they will be groomed as per international standards at a very young age and that will only help increase the pool of players in India," he said.
Having played the Sultan of Johor Cup in 2017 and 2019, as well as the 8-Nation Tournament in Spain last year, Pratap says he enjoys most playing against opponents Australia and Great Britain. He said, "Playing against Great Britain particularly is very challenging because they play to their positions, don't leave their markings and ensure the small mistakes we make cost us dearly. There is a lot to learn from these two teams when we play against them and surely Australia and Great Britain will be teams to watch out for in next year's FIH Junior World Cup to be held in India."
Currently on a break, Pratap awaits to hear from SAI for the next Junior National Coaching camp to be called. "Until I return to the National Camp, I will need to continue my duty as TC and focus on keeping fit," he said.