“Hockey is a unique sport in the sense that you need each and every guy helping each other and pulling in the same direction to be successful.”

Wayne Gretzky

She is the youngest of four siblings of a muezzin, in a mosque in Durg (Chattisgarh). She used to wake up at 6 am to play hockey. Although she was not good at studies, she never let her passion for hockey take a back seat. “Earning two meals was not an easy task for my family that time. I remember once my mother sold some house items to buy a pair of shoes for me,” she said.

Meet Saba Anjum Karim, who has come a long way from being a popular ‘gali’ hockey player to leading the Indian women hockey squad. She has made a mark for herself, fighting abject poverty to set a benchmark for underprivileged aspirants in sports. Saba, the veteran striker and former captain, has been awarded the prestigious Arjuna award in Delhi by President Pranab Mukherjee on 30 August 2013. The 28-year-old made it to the national squad in 2000 with the U-18 AHF Cup and has never looked back since then. “This has been the most special year so far in my life as I was blessed with a baby a few days back and now getting Arjuna award for hockey. What could be more special for a woman,” Saba said basking in the glory of her well deserved achievements.

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                                    Saba Anjum Karim   

The award is given to sports persons who not only have a good performance, consistently for the previous three years at the international level, with excellence for the year in which the award is recommended, but should also have shown qualities of leadership, sportsmanship, and a sense of discipline. The award carries a cash prize of Rs five lakhs and a bronze statuette of Arjuna and a scroll. On 1 November, she was honored with Chhattisgarh’s top Gundadhur sports award. The annual award is given to a person who brings honor to state in the field of sports at national and international level. The award is rewarded along with cash prize of Rs 1 Lakh and a citation.

“I never expected to come such a long way as it has been 18 years’ journey with the stick. Getting this award is also an encouraging sign for the budding hockey players from the small state of Chhattisgarh,” she said. Sharing her early times, she said, “In 1994, I picked the hockey stick for the first time seeing some male children, who played in my locality Kelabadi in Durg town and eventually I started playing with them.”. “My father used to tell me that a smooth sea never makes a good mariner and following the same lesson I moved ahead.” During her 13-year-long international career, she scored 92 goals in 200 matches.

Saba came into the limelight as the youngest of all participants in hockey competition when she first played for India in under 18 AHF Cup in 2000. As a right wing forward, she has represented India in many other international tournaments like Asian Games Oct 2002, Asia Cup Feb 2004 Delhi, Commonwealth Games 2002 and 2006, Manchester, Junior World Cup May 2001, Buenos Aires and Australian Test Series and New Zealand Tour.

Recalling her best moments in the game, she said, “I struck six goals including the winning one in the final of Shastri cup 2007 and was awarded player of the tournament.” She consistently maintained her position as a good forward striker and was elevated as skipper of the women’s squad in 2011. But it doesn’t matter much to Saba, who says that it’s an honor to play for the country whether you are leading a side or not.

On the game of hockey, she says, “when you are in contest with a team inside the field, then a fraction of second, an ounce of effort or a moment of indecision can turn the outcome of whole game. The same way hockey progresses in the field.” She is currently away from the field as she has been blessed with a baby recently. However, she often visits local ground ‘Mahamaya’ where she practices with her coach Tanveer Akil.”I cannot leave my obsession for hockey. I visit my home ground where several young girls are learning hockey from Coach Mr Akil. I give them tips whenever I visit there. It makes me happy when they say they wish to become like me and other women sportspersons including Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal,” Saba said.

Commenting on the performance of women’s hockey squad, she says, “Our team is really doing well which was clearly evident in their performance in the recent world cup. More youngsters are coming in and showing good strength and skills. They can do a lot better if they continue with the same performance,” Anjum said.

She also felt that playing against countries like China, Australia and Argentina makes a side more strong. On her comeback in the team, she says, “I hope I will be on ground in a couple of months. Saba was earlier honoured with Chhattisgarh’s top Gundadhur sports award, besides Shaheed Kausahal Yadav sports award. She is serving as deputy superintendent of police in the state police department.

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