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In Odisha's hockey cradle, a firebrand 22-year-old ends her family's long wait

Mariana Kujur, the 22-year old forward in the Indian women's hockey team from Odisha's hinterland, is living her dream.

In Odishas hockey cradle, a firebrand 22-year-old ends her familys long wait

Mariana Kujur with her (left to right) brother, mother, father and aunt in 2014 (Special Arrangement)


Tazeen Qureshy

Updated: 2022-03-02T14:23:11+05:30

Bhubaneswar: When Mariana Kujur was selected to represent the junior hockey women's team first in the 3-nations tournament in Australia in 2019 and again in a six-match series against Chile last year, her father had a strange request to make. "Ye sab to thik hai, lekin ab India khelne ke liye try karo (All this is fine, but now try to play for India)."

Perplexed, Mariana tried to reason it out that she was already playing for 'India,' but her father dismissed the explanation. "'Jaise Deep Grace aur Namita senior main khelte hain, waise khelo aur apna naam karo. Mujhe TV main dekhna hai tumko' (Play in the senior team like Deep Grace and Namita and earn fame. I want to see your matches on television)," he had said.

The Odisha-born Mariana is already on track, ticking off her father's wishes one at a time. She was selected for the Asian Champions Trophy in December, played at the recently concluded Asia Cup in Muscat where the team won bronze and is also a part of the team's debut FIH Pro League.

Let alone televised matches, if Covid-19 doesn't play a spoiler, Mariana's father would very well get to see his daughter play live at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar this week, approximately 400kms from their home in Sundargarh district. The Indian women's hockey team will be playing their first match on home soil since the Tokyo Olympics when they take on Spain in a two-leg tie on February 26 and 27.

"He is very excited. If things go as per plan, he would definitely come over to Bhubaneswar and watch me play. That would be a great moment in his life," said Mariana, while interacting with The Bridge during her daily training session in Bhubaneswar.

The Beginning

Like almost all other hockey greats coming from the Sundargarh belt, considered as the nursery of hockey, Mariana grew up in a hockey household. Her parents are farmers in the small village of Timna in Sundergarh district, but hockey has always been a way of life.

Youngest among five siblings, hockey was played by her two brothers as a recreational activity. However, things changed when the family's 'ladly' (adorable), as she described herself in her WhatsApp status, shifted to her maternal uncle's house in the same district for studies. Her cousin used to train young girls with hockey basics and Mariana also became a trainee under him.

"After learning the basics, I played hockey at school and went for selections. In 2010, I joined Panposh sports hostel for formal training. Just like every family in my village, our family also played hockey but I was the first to enroll in a sports hostel," she said.

Gradually, she climbed up the success ladder by first making her way into the U-18 team in 2016, the India-A team a year later and finally the junior team in 2019 which eventually opened the door to her senior debut.

Midfielder to Forward

Initially a midfielder, Mariana was put in the forward line in the senior camp alongside Navneet Kaur, Lalremsiami, Vandana Katariya and Sharmila Devi.

Mariana Kujur has scored 1 goal in 6 appearances for the Indian women's team. (Hockey India)

In her previous interviews, the 22-year old had emphasized on how she finds a balance as a midfielder as she gets to connect with both the defence and the forward-line and that she aims to become the best midfielder in the world someday. However, she is now happy with playing as a forward and wants to do her best in the department.

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"A player should be able to play in all positions. Of course I played midfielder so I had planned my ambitions accordingly. But these are just mere thoughts in the mind. I have no regrets playing as a forward," she said.

More Matches, More Opportunities

The Indian women's hockey team is up for a choc-a-block calendar this year.

After the Pro League, the team has a World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games lined up. Aware of the important matches ahead, Mariana is hoping to avail these opportunities to prove her mettle.

"It all boils down to a good show on match day. If you play well, you will be selected – it is as simple as that. There is some performance pressure but I know these opportunities are rare. I won't let it slide so easily," she added.

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