Tamulpur: Sunil and Gathi form a formidable combination along with four other boys from the hilly terrains of Bandarban district in South Eastern Bangladesh. What makes their identities unique on the Bangladeshi scoreboard at the ongoing 4th Asian Kho Kho Championships, is their surname, Tripura.

Sunil Tripura and Gathi Chandra Tripura play as defenders in the Bangladeshi line-up and they are happy to have contributed to their team’s two successive wins in the championships, making them favourites for a berth in the knock-out stages of the tournament, currently underway at the Tamulpur Higher Secondary School.

“We have a good combination of six players from the hilly region, these players form the core of the Bangladesh side. We are happy to be able to perform whatever roles were assigned to us and contribute to our team’s victories. We are confident of reaching the semifinals,” the duo said during a conversation with this correspondent.

Both Sunil and Gathi are aware that their surnames are named after one of India’s Northeastern states, and have heard numerous tales from their elders back home.

“We have heard several stories about Tripura, the dynasties in India, and the different Tripuri clans. In Bangladesh, we have a sizable community of Tripuri people mainly from Uchoi and some from Debbarma. The Uchoi community mainly reside in the Bandarban and Rangamati hill districts in the Chittagong region,” they said.

In 1996 when kho-kho was introduced in Bangladesh for the first time it was restricted to the hill districts. Since then, the region has dominated the sport in the country. For Sunil and Gathi, their journey started at their alma mater Quantum Cosmo School, where the sport is given priority.

“In the last few years, we have had almost nine players in the team, this time we have around six players from the region, this also means the domination of the hill state players continues. Frankly speaking, Kho Kho is still in its developing stage in the cricket-crazy country. Cricket is a glamorous sport, everyone in Bangladesh knows even a domestic level cricketer, but for other sports, unfortunately, every day it’s a struggle and a fight for recognition,” the duo said.

“Take kho kho for example. There is no proper domestic structure. We don’t have annual national-level competitions. Unlike India at the grassroots level, there are very few coaches who shape techniques. However, having said that, in recent years there have been competitions at the various age group levels so things do look bright,” they added.

For the senior side, however, things aren’t as rosy back in Bangladesh. 

The duo claimed that they came to know about the 4th Asian Kho Kho championships only on February 27 and were asked to join a hurriedly-called national camp in Mohammadpur, some 20 km from Mirpur near Dhaka.

“It was a 15-day national camp before the tournament. The players take almost a week to get to know each other as they hail from various parts and training takes place over the next seven days. You must have longer camps to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and assess the opposition teams’ weaker areas,” said Sunil, pursuing his Master’s in Sports Science from Chittagong University.

Sunil, the second of four siblings, had to work his way out to seek a career in sports. Born to a farmer and a housewife, Sunil also plays a few other sports like handball and softball to support his family. While the family mainly depends on paddy fields for sustenance, it gets tougher during the monsoon season.

Gathi, 19, is a second-year Physics student at the City College in Chittagong and has represented his country on a couple of occasions. He also belongs to the farming community and is looking forward to a good performance at the Asian championships, to earn a few bucks for the family.

From a performance point of view, Sunil, Gathi and the rest of the Bangladesh side have one target in mind when they take on Nepal in the semifinal on the concluding day of the championships.

“We haven’t lost to Nepal to date, although they are a stronger outfit. So we want to continue the trend when we face them in the semifinals. If we reach the final, it will obviously be against India, and we are nowhere near them. They have highly skilled and experienced players, and we have all the respect for them.

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On their maiden visit to India, the Bangladeshi duo said they have numerous memories to take back home. “The kind of hospitality and warmth we have received here is similar to how we treat our relatives. Also, because of the proximity, the food and culture here are something we can relate to. We also want to thank the organisers of the championship for the brilliant arrangements both in Guwahati and in Tamulpur. They have actually made us feel like home,” the duo said before rejoining their team bus after a successful day’s campaign.

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