Akshata Dhekale - Rising from the fields

Young Indian defender Akshata Dhekale made her senior team debut recently against Germany in the FIH Women's Pro League

Akshata Dhekale - Rising from the fields
Akshata Dhekale - Rising from the fields

PUNE: It’s been a patient and rewarding wait for Indian hockey defender Akshata Dhekale. Her’s is a story that best defines a nobody to somebody, literally.

To understand the ‘somebody’ first, one ought to be apprised of the all-in-one-week double success that she was graced with.

Akshata, 20, landed employment with Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) by purely sticking to hard work that showed the promise in her in what she does best - play.

Adding up was being named and playing both matches for India in FIH Pro League against Germany in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.

Akshata is one of the many players that regularly spell out the age old line ‘talent continues to exist in rural pockets’ and similarly brings to context the ‘nobody’ that she was.

Growing up in a humble farmer family of four, life was simple. Moreover, hailing from the temple village of Wakhari, situated 15-odd kilometres from Phaltan in Satara District a routine day was defined for the Dhekale’s – father Abhasaheb off to the fields, siblings Akshata and Saurabh to school and mother Sandhya left back for daily home chores.

Sport was a far cry, leave alone a mention or a reference in this cut-to-fit daily routine.

However, back in school (Hanumantrao Vidyalaya) the P.E period was sacrosanct, a reliever for all including Akshata.

It was here that Bhujbal Sir noticed the little extra eagerness in the lass.

Encouraged with opportunity, Akshata’s zeal was spotted and forwarded to Krida Prabodhini. What followed for the then-in-Grade-III eight odd -year old lass was a call up for the State government’s mandatory selection process for grassroots sportspersons - the Battery of Tests (BoT), for assessment.

Results were positive and what began was the start of a journey.

With the BoT modelled around general sports-based physical parameters, ‘specialisation’ was the next stage of the process. Akshata in this case was assigned hockey and was taken through her initial paces by Krida Prabodhni coach Aarti Halingali.

Leading her further was Krida Prabddhini coach Olympian Ajit Lakra, who observed, “when she came to me she could not hold a hockey stick… but as time went by, she adapted quickly to become a ‘hockey player.’

How true, all would agree.

It was a rapid rise from there on. As Lakra put it, “in two years she was a fluent player on the pitch.”

He further reasoned her progress with, “high work rate, quick adaptation and a keen learner.”

What followed was playing at the Nationals when she was selected by Hockey Maharashtra.

Manoj Bhore, General Secretary, Hockey Maharashtra, opines, "she was stubborn and always wanted to be better. She could not be overlooked during selections."

Stubborn she was, academically and showed no less in spark. During her tenth boards Akshata ended up securing 91.0 percent. “She knew nothing about hockey, but yes she was good at studies,” Abhasaheb explained.

Sports and the Dhekales'? There were traces. A couple actually in the family after introspection!

Her father, 63, was an Indian freestyle wrestler (akhada) and regular in his heydays at dangals. Similarly, one of her cousin sister was a state-level boxer.

Thus, to say Akshata inherited sports genes contends well with her adaptation to sport. Lakra, who trained her as a defender, specifically pinpoints Akshata’s versatility of doubling up as a mid-fielder and passing finesse.

It’s been a while since she’s moved on from the learning phase to being a competitor. and perhaps the masterstroke was when moved from traditional farmland to city lights. For had it not been the case, Akshata would or been the many who did not dare and push their limits and instead remaned like the many wasted unknown talents that go unnoticed.

Today, with two senior caps under her belt, her journey has extended further. For India, yet another talent was unleashed.


* Selected/ Probable - Junior Women's Tour Tri-Nation - Canberra 2019

* Selected/ Played - Junior Women’s Tour - Santiago, Chile – 9 to 25 January 2021

* Selected/ Cancelled - FIH Junior Women's World Cup - South Africa - 1 April 2022

* Stand By/ Team - FIH Pro League v/s Spain, 2022

* Named/ Final Squad - FIH Pro League v Germany - March 2022 

* Played/ Indian Squad – 2 FIH Pro League v/s Germany - March 2022

(Micky Aigner)