ALONG A narrow, bustling street at Topkhana Bazar in Lucknow, Qaiser Jahan stood under the summer sun with her vegetable cart, tending to a rush of customers before Friday prayers. Around the same time, at a university ground in Potchefstroom in South Africa, her daughter Mumtaz slid in from the right of the goalpost on one knee, flung her hockey stick forward and deflected the ball past South Korea’s goalkeeper.
The courageous goal set the tone for India’s 3-0 win over South Korea in the quarterfinals of the Junior World Cup, making sure the team reached the last-four stage of the competition for only the second time in history.
Qaiser Jahan, however, could not watch her 19-year-old daughter’s heroics, which earned the Player of the Match award. “That was a busy hour for me,” she said, speaking to The Indian Express over phone. “I would have loved to watch her score the goal, but I’ve got to earn a living as well. I am sure there will be more chances to see her in the future.”
The mother’s confidence isn’t misplaced. It’s always tricky to read too much into junior-level performances but Mumtaz, with her speed and poaching ability, has stood out in a team brimming with talent. She has made a massive contribution in every match of India’s triumphant campaign so far, recording four wins in four matches.
With six goals so far, Mumtaz is the tournament’s third-highest goal-scorer. She was on the score-sheet in India’s opening match against Wales, scored the winning goal against pre-tournament favourites Germany, and whipped up a sensational hat-trick against Malaysia.
On Friday, while her mother was out working, Mumtaz’s five sisters were tracking the match on a mobile screen at their home in Lucknow and her father Hafiz was at the mosque.
“It’s tough to describe how we feel today. There were days when we had absolutely nothing…when some people taunted my parents for allowing a girl to play a sport,” Mumtaz’s elder sister Farah said. Qaiser Jahan added: “We ignored those comments but today, it feels like Mumtaz has given a befitting reply to all of them.”
Hockey happened accidentally to Mumtaz. Around 2013, she travelled with her school athletics team for a competition in Agra where she topped the sprints, prompting a local coach to suggest that she try hockey.
“She had the speed and energy that we felt would come in handy in hockey,” Neelam Siddiqui, one of Mumtaz’s childhood coaches, said. “We felt if she could grasp hockey skills well, she would turn into a very nice player.”
Mumtaz Khan is our Player of the Match for her tenacity at the forward position and contribution to India’s goal.#IndiaKaGame #HockeyIndia #FIHWorldCup #RisingStars #JWC2021 #hockeyinvites @CMO_Odisha @sports_odisha @IndiaSports @Media_SAI pic.twitter.com/P9CmP7RQnl
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) April 8, 2022
Siddiqui coaches at Lucknow’s famous KD Singh Babu Stadium’s academy, where Mumtaz landed a few months after that tournament in Agra. She impressed during her selection trials and was chosen for a scholarship programme through which she got admitted to the sports hostel.
“Mumtaz was barely 13 years old and had only played for her school team a few times until then. We put her in a match with some senior players to see how she reacts. She was pretty fearless and made a couple of very nice dodges,” Siddiqui said. “We selected her for the hostel and from that moment, she began dreaming of playing for India.”
But as Mumtaz started to chase that dream, her family back home was both excited and anxious. “Before Mumtaz was born, our father used to ply cycle-rickshaws,” Farah said. “My maternal uncle noticed he was getting old and frail for the job, and that too for very little reward, so he helped us set up a vegetable cart, which my mother runs even today.”
The income from the cart was barely enough to pay for daily expenses and school fees of the six girls. “The family couldn’t even afford to purchase a hockey kit,” Mumtaz’s younger sister Shirin said. “Thankfully, her coaches helped her.”
Siddiqui says she did not have to work extra hard to polish Mumtaz’s talent. “Some things came naturally to her, like positioning inside the ‘D’ or knowing when to accelerate. Scoring goals is a by-product of these things,” she said.
This “game intelligence” saw Mumtaz break into the junior national team set-up in 2017. The following year, she was one of the nine to win a silver medal at the Youth Olympics, where a five-a-side version of the sport was played. “When she won that medal, it felt like Eid came early for us,” Farah, the elder sister, said. “It’s the same feeling this time as well.”
On Sunday, when India face the mighty Netherlands in the semifinals, all eyes will be on Mumtaz to see if she can deliver yet again — except of course for her mother, who says she will be back at the market with the vegetable cart.
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