BHUBANESWAR: Rakesh Oram was called into the India U-15 team, in 2012, at the age of 14, one that travelled to Spain for the Copa Coca Cola Cup that year. He was the only Odisha player in that team, and considered the first of those that promised more.
Oram played as a striker at the time. In fact, his performance in the semi-final of the National Sub-Junior Football Championship held in Goa that year had helped secure his spot in the National Team. He scored three goals against Karnataka, two against Uttar Pradesh and one against Meghalaya in that tournament.
“That was a long time ago,” he says, a gentle smile across his face. “I’ve learnt a lot of different things since then.”
Having started playing football as past time in Chituapara, Jharsaguda, Oram was in the sports hostel at the time of his selection. From there his growth was linear, as he went on to play for Mumbai City in 2016 and then joined the Bengaluru FC second team. When Odisha came calling for the Hero Santosh Trophy last year, he secured his release to play the tournament.
“It’s a matter of prestige. To be able to play for my state, maybe youngsters will see it and get inspired even more. I learnt a lot playing outside and now I want to teach others that too,” he says.
From a hot blooded goal scoring attacker, Oram has evolved into a stoic, calm defender, unafraid of the ball and skilful enough to play it from the back. He is the fulcrum, the captain of the state team, as they battle to stay alive in the competition and book their ticket to Riyadh.
At the same age that Oram was lighting up the National scene, Prabin Tigga was playing hockey. It was natural enough. He was growing up in Rourkela, the hotbed of India’s hockey. His father encouraged it and wanted him to work hard and earn his chops at the higher level.
Tigga enjoyed a game on grass more than that on turf though. “I don’t know why,” he laughs. “It just appealed to me more. There was something more exciting about football. I know it seems strange for a boy from Rourkela to say that, but that’s how I felt.”
Hockey’s loss was football’s gain, at least for his home state. Tigga, a defensive midfielder, is the Hutch to Oram’s Starsky, their performances the glue that holds Salim Pathan’s plan together.
Tigga has experience with Pathan, having played under him at ARA FC, and knows what is expected of him within this team.
The hosts play a crucial encounter in Group A on Friday, February 17, a must win game against defending champions Kerala. It promises to be a blockbuster clash, both teams knowing that nothing less than a win will do.
“We have all dreamt of going abroad, playing somewhere else and now that is offered at the Santosh Trophy,” Tigga says. “Rakesh Bhai has experienced this. We all want to do so too.”