When playing hockey, Indian junior team defender Pratap Lakra watches, learns and takes inspiration from seniors Rupinder Pal Singh’s dragflicking abilities and Birendra Lakra’s game, but is right now busy doing duty as ticket collector in the railways.
Since his entry into the junior national camp in 2017, Pratap knew only hard work would help him don the senior team 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,” he was quoted as saying in a Hockey India press release.
“I particularly follow Rupinder Pal Singh for his dragflick execution and in terms of defence and game I follow Birendra Lakra,” he said.
“Both are very experienced and bring a special skill set to the team and watching them helps me improvise my own game,” added Pratap, who works as a ticket collector in the Railways.
Hailing from a small hamlet called Beldihi in Odisha’s Sundergarh district, hockey came naturally to Pratap whose father and sister were already popular in that region for their abilities with the stick.
“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.”
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.
“At Panposh, when I started playing, there were a lot of talented players like Amit Rohidas, Stanley Victor Minz among others and our exposure to the game there was excellent with Dilip bhai and Lazarus bhai visiting us regularly and coaching us.”
With the Odisha government taking interest in promoting the sport and investing in High Performance Centres across the state, Pratap feels youngsters like him will benefit from the programme.
“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 competing against Australia and Great Britain the most.
“Playing against Great Britain particularly is 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.”
The tournament is scheduled to be held in India.
Currently on a break, Pratap is waiting to hear from the Sports Authority of India for the next junior national camp.
“Until I return to the national camp, I will need to continue my duty as TC and focus on keeping fit,” he said.