October 25, 2010
Tripura teams crosses 2,000 kilometers to head straight to the basketball court.
I had requested an interview with Md. Makara Dush Ali, the head coach of the Tripura Junior Boys Basketball team,and some of the players,right after their first match at the Junior National Championships at Vashi. Naturally, I had expected the players and the coach to be a little fatigued after the game against Pondicherry.
Considering the journey this team had been through,'fatigue' is a masterful understatement.
"We have come a long way," Ali lamented, both of Tripura's journey into a competent basketball team and the team's actual journey to travel around 2,000 kilometers across most of India's wide breath to reach down to Vashi. The team left their capital of Agartala for a 24-hour bus journey up to Guwahati, Assam. From there,they embarked on an epic 48-hour train journey to Mumbai, and it took them another two hours from Mumbai to Vashi.
The Tripura team arrived at Vashi at 6:00 AM on the morning of Sunday,October 24th. At 9:00 AM that morning,they played their first game.
"The boys were really tired,but they still played hard."
Unfortunately,the fatigued ultimately showed on the team that was already considered to have been one of the weaker squads in the tournament. Tripura was beaten thoroughly by Pondicherry,51-12. Though dejected,the team refused to be in sour spirits.
Other teams from the North-East such as Mizoram, and Meghalaya have also brought their teams across the nation to the tournament in Maharashtra. None of them were thrust into action as soon as Tripura were, but all of them have come determined to enjoy the experience. During the opening ceremony on Sunday night, each of the teams held up their flag high, and some were even represented by young schoolchildren modeling their traditional garb.
For Tripura, the journey to Vashi is just one of the few steps taken towards the long road in national basketball respectability. "In Tripura, gymnastics is the most popular game, but there are still enough people who play basketball," said coach Ali, "The problem is with the infrastructure: we don't have any indoor or synthetic courts (like the one being used at the Fr. Agnel school in Vashi) – so our players practice on concrete courts."
"Another problem is in the players' heights," Ali added, "The population in Tripura is generally shorter,so we struggle to compete with the best in basketball."
The height difference was clearly exploited by their first opponents Pondicherry, who jumped off the gates early and maintained a large lead throughout the game.
Still the team has young players who,despite their short height, will be hoping to showcase their skills at the national level. One of them is Sanjit Sutradhar,a quick,brave guard. "I have been playing basketball for six years," said Sanjit,"I used to live near a basketball court,so it was easy for me to step out and start learning the game."
Despite admittedly being extremely tired for their match on Sunday, Sanjit put up a respectable performance,scoring 10 of his team's 12 points.
Tripura is still looking for its next Ronudeb – the legendary player from the state who made the Indian Junior team in 1985. The state's players haven't been represented on the national teams since, but Coach Ali is hopeful that one day they will produce another basketball superstar from the state.
Until that day, they will keep playing and keep persisting, even if facing tough situations like Sunday,when all they got was a three-hour rest after a three-day trip. For basketball players around the country, the struggle to get to the game will never overshadow the game itself!