Indian Hockey's Next Big Thing! Fast Forward Mumtaz Khan is Parents' Pride


Mumtaz Khan is a pacy player in the forward line, with the potential to serve Indian women’s hockey for years. The hurdles she negotiated in life to become worthy of a junior India jersey at the FIH Junior Women’s World Cup, finding the road to the goal appears far less stressful for the 18-year-old.

India lost the bronze medal match to England, winning hearts for a fighting display throughout the tournament held at Potchefstroom (South Africa). Mumtaz was on target twice in regulation time, hoodwinking the defenders with quick thinking, faster reflexes in a tie to decide third place.

England won 5-2 (3-0 in penalties) for the bronze, amidst the joy are likely to recall a tearaway on the Indian wing. Temperament for a big-match situation increases her chances of inclusion among the senior India probables. Blessed with raw speed and stick skills, exposure will make her sharper.

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Lucknow’s Mumtaz has faced such adversity every step in her life, just to play hockey growing up in a large family whose source of income was selling vegetables, that sizing up the situation on the hockey pitch in a sport played at blinding pace, will be easier on her nerves.

The fourth child among seven siblings, Mumtaz had a lot on her hands beyond studies or recreation, supporting her dad Hafiz Khan who sold vegetables in a mandi. The daughter-father bond helped her later in life. Sport was not in the frame amidst a family’s struggle to make ends meet.

Women’s hockey is packed with stories of players from tough backgrounds from different states, toughened by daily survival itself, putting their best foot forward at every sporting opportunity. The spunky Lucknow girl’s first brush with the joy of competing happened in athletics.

Happy to share the happiness of young Mumtaz winning a sprint race in the neighbourhood, the parents were unaware of the ambition of their little one to chase more such situations. She was willing to try anything, so when a hockey coach suggested running around holding a stick, she was game.

The winger whose twin strikes in the Junior World Cup bronze match took the game into penalties, gave her first hockey trial at the K D Singh Babu stadium secretly. Mumtaz got through, the secret was out via a letter, asking her parents to enrol their daughter in the Girls Sports Hostel.

Father had driven her to the stadium for trailing in his autorickshaw, went about his daily routine at the mandi, unaware about the trials. Mumtaz’s mother raised strong objections to a daughter staying at a hostel, away from family in a faraway stadium, playing hockey when she should be studying.

Indian hockey would have lost a talented forward, making waves in a FIH competition in South Africa, had the parents put their foot down on her choice of sport over studies and help run the business. Mumtaz’s eldest sister persuaded their mother for one chance for a sports-obsessed sibling.

This anxiety in families to allow a girl child to chase her dreams, worried about shortage of financial resources to support the sportsperson, amidst advice from well-wishers against the decision, appears in the script of Hindi movies based on sport. Real life in sport is tougher, the journey is lonely.

The survivors get a chance to shine at a higher level, Mumtaz’s pace on the wing and knack for goals earned the daughter of a vegetable seller a chance to represent Uttar Pradesh at the Sub-junior and the Jr Nationals. Sporting success develops confidence to face taunts from society, builds self-respect.

From the early days in the Lucknow sports hostel, learning to find solutions to problems on her own, the culture shock for the UP player continued at the first national camp call-up in 2017. Staying and competing against juniors from different regions, Mumtaz learnt to gain their acceptance, make friends.

Aware of the situation in store for her and her family back in Lucknow, in case hockey opportunities do not happen in future, Mumtaz’s breakthrough performance was at the 2014 Junior Nationals in Chhatisgarh, when deemed too young to be pushed into age group hockey and waited for a call.

Within eight years, 18-year-old Mumtaz received the Best Player prize at the Junior World Cup 2022. India beat South Korea to earn a semi-final place at Potchefstroom, she struck the first goal in a 3-0 victory after making an impression in a squad brimming with youthful talent.

England dashed India’s Junior World Cup medal hopes, four years earlier in 2018, Mumtaz had returned with a Youth Olympics silver medal as part of India’s five-a-side girls’ team. Mother Qaiser Jahan is proud of her daughter, whose determination has taken her within range of a senior India place.

Team India’s return from South Africa, with their heads held high after a place among the world’s top four nations, is likely to turn the spotlight on players when they reach respective homes. Mumtaz’s father, who has stopped driving an autorickshaw piled with vegetables to the market, will be a proud man.

Mumtaz’s mom, selling vegetables in a cart, can look back with joy at the fruits of a difficult decision. Lucknow’s Tophkhana Bazar where the Khans stay and the city’s K D Singh Babu stadium where a spunky girl took her first hockey steps, have given India one more talent to stir sporting dreams.

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