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Taking the family tradition to a new level

Talented 27-year-old Bengalurean Mohammed Raheel, made the most of the opportunity that came his way Down Under as coach Craig Fulton fielded several reserves to check the quality and ability of the bench strength on the Road to the Paris Olympics.
Last Updated : 08 May 2024, 15:56 IST
Last Updated : 08 May 2024, 15:56 IST

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Bengaluru: One of the few positives from a largely disappointing tour to Australia, where the Indian hockey team lost all five ‘Test’ matches, was the performance of Mohammed Raheel, the striker-turned-midfielder leaving an impression with his speed, skill and ball control.

The talented 27-year-old Bengalurean, who had switched focus to 5-a-side hockey a few years ago after losing his way in the traditional format owing to multiple factors, made the most of the opportunity that came his way Down Under as coach Craig Fulton fielded several reserves to check the quality and ability of the bench strength on the Road to the Paris Olympics.

Switching seamlessly from the shorter format to the demanding longer version against the hard-pressing Kookaburras, Raheel surprised everyone with his solid and composed midfield play.

While a majority of his colleagues succumbed to the relentless pressure the Aussies created and kept losing possession, the 5’4’’ Raheel stood out with his interceptions, passes and general reading of the game. In essence, he was one of the old-school products of Indian hockey but with a modern stitching.

“His ball handling, sense of passing and overall reading of the game was top notch,” Dronacharya award winner Jude Felix, who coached Raheel when he was heading the U-23 side that travelled to Belgium for a five-nation tournament in 2018, told Deccan Herald.  

“Apart from all the natural skills he possesses, for a striker or midfielder to succeed at the international one needs to have that cunningness. He has that main attribute. He started off as a striker, but I saw a better a midfielder in him. That’s why I recommended to Hockey India that he be groomed as midfielder and not a striker. Glad he’s finally getting his due.”

Since his early days, Raheel’s only ambition was to become an international hockey player to fulfil a family dream that has a deep fondness for the sport.

His grandfather Mohammad Amiruddin started the tradition, representing the postal department before his father Mohammad Naseeruddin took over the baton, playing for Karnataka and HAL. Raheel’s uncles, Mohammad Jani Moeddin and Nazeeruddin, too wielded the stick with considerable success. 

Raheel’s elder brother Nayeemuddin took the family tradition a notch higher by making the grade to the Indian junior team before fading out. Raheel then did what none from his household could accomplish, donning the senior national cap last June in Bhubaneswar during the FIH Pro League.

“That was a dream come true moment for me as that’s the ground where I watched India play for the first time,” Raheel told DH. “All my life all I wanted was to play for India. In fact, that was a family goal too. I was glad to have accomplished it.”

That accomplishment came after a difficult time for Raheel who is employed with Comptroller and Auditor General of India now. Soon after the under-23 tour to Belgium, Raheel was banished to the bin despite earning praise from Felix, a master midfielder himself.

With the senior 11-a-side packed with talent, Raheel switched his focus to the shorter format, which is evolving at a fast rate now, to keep his India dream alive.

Then, following several rasping shows in the nationals for Hockey Karnataka, he got the national call-up in the same format for a tournament in Lausanne.

He also went on to represent the country at Hockey5s Asia Cup and World Cup too. But the one that mattered most to him was the Pro League game against New Zealand in Bhubaneswar.

“5s is great but I wanted to prove myself in the traditional format. That’s where it all matters,” reckoned Raheel. “Now I want to realise another dream of mine, that’s to compete in the Paris Olympics and finish on the podium. Time is running out and there’s immense competition for places, but I’m geared to prove myself. I’m going all out to achieve that dream.”

Felix, who grooms players at his academy, feels for Raheel to make the Paris cut he needs to work on his tackling skills.

“At the very beginning itself I told Hockey India that if he is coached in the right way, he could become a very good player. Raheel needs to work on his tackling. It’s a very important skill and if he is coached on that aspect, I’m sure he can become an important cog in the midfield. There are some rough edges which needs polishing.”

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Published 08 May 2024, 15:56 IST

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