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Coach Baldev Singh doesn’t like media attention. He looks at us with a healthy measure of suspicion. The 62-year Dronacharya awardee runs the training academy like a military boot camp. A former player and men’s national team coach, he founded this academy and has run it since the mid-’80s. In Shahabad, this man has earned the respect reserved for the gods. This is because his efforts have turned these girls into celebrated heroes.

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The government-run school is the only one in Shahabad, and it shares a wall with the hockey academy. Here, the hockey-playing girls are the cool kids. “Rani didi” is the hero the kids look up to, and there’s a picture of her in a Team India jersey in the principal’s room, hung higher than the plaque with the school toppers’ names.

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