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Dhaka Tribune

Watching from roof to falling in love with hockey

Story of youngster Arpita Pal who starred at Hockey5s Asia Cup with 20 goals in 6 matches

Update : 16 Sep 2023, 10:43 AM

It was beyond the expectations of Bangladesh forward Arpita Pal that she would become the top-scorer of the Women’s Hockey5s Asia Cup 2023 which took place in Salalah, Oman at the end of last month.

Arpita scored 20 goals in only six matches to achieve the feat in the country’s debut appearance at the continental five-a-side competition where her side finished eighth through some outstanding displays.

Another Bangladeshi forward Airin Riya netted 16 goals to become the third highest scorer, behind Wen Yang of Chinese Taipei who bagged 18 goals to sit at second.

In any format, it was the women’s hockey team’s first outing, as well as competition appearance, in the international arena after a gap of around four years.

The duration of the team’s training camp was also not enough but their performance on the pitch was in stark contrast to the long absence and lack of preparation.

Arpita was among the scorers in their three wins against Oman (9-2), Iran (9-3) and Chinese Taipei (10-5) but her scoring rate remained almost the same when Bangladesh lost three other matches against Indonesia (4-7), Hong Kong (7-10) and Chinese Taipei (5-8) as she notched three goals in each of those encounters.

After their return home, Bangladesh Hockey Federation gave a warm reception to the hockey team at the capital’s Falcon Hall Thursday where Arpita and Riya were rewarded and praised by federation’s president Air Chief Marshal Sheikh Abdul Hannan during his speech.   

Arpita gave an exclusive interview to Dhaka Tribune just after the grand reception where she talked about many aspects of her journey in hockey, right till the continental show where she shone brightly.

From athletics to hockey

Arpita started playing hockey in 2018.

At first, she played in the school (Dinajpur Jubilee High School) competitions.

She soon caught the attention of Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishthan coach Alamgir Alam and was picked for a junior national team camp within a year.

She got admitted to BKSP and has been under the guidance of BKSP coaches since then as regular practice sessions burnished her game day by day.

“If BKSP was not there I wouldn’t have performed like this. It is because of their training lessons that brought us to where we are today,” she said.

Arpita was first selected by her school teacher for the team formed ahead of the inter-school tournament, and had Abu Sayeed Chowdhury as trainer.

Before that, she used to compete in athletics events including long jump, high jump and javelin.

“I never thought of trying my luck in hockey. This sport is like art to me so I enjoyed watching it. I found it beautiful. I watched girls playing hockey from the roof of the school building for a month. I loved it,” she said.

Converting chances

Then one day the opportunity came along.

“Everyone was told that if anyone was interested they could come to practice. I joined within a couple of days. I wanted to play,” she said.

She also talked about her initial impression after holding the hockey stick for the first time as she was not sure whether she could excel at this sport.

“I was thinking whether I could do it. I didn’t know how to grip it and play. It (stick) was light (weight) to me. I enjoyed it from the start. It’s always a joy playing sports. Those who enjoy it can put up good performance,” she said.

She went on to represent Rangpur division in the debut edition of Bangladesh Youth Games which was held in 2018 and participated by thousands of athletes across the country in 21 disciplines.

Three months of training was enough for her team’s coach to field her as striker in the nationwide event. 

She can also play in midfield.   

She was called up for the national Under-21 team for the six-nation Women’s Juniors Asian Hockey Federation Cup Qualifiers held in Singapore in September, 2019 at the age of 14.

Family and goals

Arpita said when she started playing hockey she got full support from her mother but her father and elder brother did not admire it much.  

“After I was doing well in hockey everyone including my father started supporting me. My mother likes everything I do so she supported me from the beginning,” she said.

“I’m very happy now,” said an elated Arpita.

“I want to do something for my parents. If they were not there I would not have made it. All my success is for them.”

Arpita has already become a vital member of the women’s hockey team who are only gaining momentum in recent times with a group of young players, but her dream knows no bounds.

“I hope to compete in more international tournaments and represent our country in the world stage in a good way. Our aim is to play the World Cup,” she said.

Coach full of praises

When asked about Arpita’s astounding performance in the five-a-side Asia Cup, which served as the World Cup qualifiers, head coach Mohammad Jahid Hossain Raju first pointed out BKSP’s role in developing her.

“She grew up in sports environment playing in Dinajpur. BKSP is a training institute so it was an appropriate place for her. It’s an ideal place for rest and recovery also. It’s an opportunity for players like Arpita to improve further,” said Raju.

Raju, who guided the national team in Oman, is also the head coach of BKSP’s women’s hockey team so he has been watching the rising star for years.

“She is extraordinary. Her scoring ability is very good. She has also got good strength. Her technique and skills are very fine,” he said.

“Still, I couldn’t predict that she could score 20 goals. She performed so well that it was beyond expectations. She needs to carry it on.”

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