"We had very good bench strength"

Published : Nov 10, 2001 00:00 IST


HE has perhaps understood the psyche of the players, and thus was best equipped to extract the best results from them. The 43-year-old Rajinder Singh feels that his appreciation of the players' viewpoint was the key to the winning of the junior World Cup in Hobart.

"It was undoubtedly a team effort, as everybody, from the government to the federation, to the coaches, physical trainers did their best to prepare a strong team. Eventually, it was the players who had to perform, and they did it. I still think as a player, and understand their feelings. I know what they can, and cannot. I can also imagine, what goes through their mind in different situations," said Rajinder Singh, quite satisfied with the years of hard work bearing fruit.

A member of the gold winning Indian team in the Moscow Olympics, Rajinder had a clear idea about his job.

"The coach is not there to put pressure on his own players. His job is to tune the team in such a way to ensure the execution of the ideas into goals in a smooth fashion," said Rajinder, happy with the response from the boys who were confidence personified after the numerous international exposures at the junior and senior levels in recent times.

Having handled the sub-junior, junior, schools and Combined Universities teams for more than a decade, Rajinder was able to appreciate the fact that the best possible team was selected for the prestigious event. That apart, the team was sent to Australia much before time to get acclimatised to the cold conditions, with a series of practice matches against the New South Wales team in Sydney. The team kept improving with every day.

"Everything possible was done to make the team play to potential. Eventually, it was the team work and the hard work that paid off," said Rajinder, who had helped the Indian teams win the Asian Schools tournament in Ludhiana and the Asian under-18 tournament in Ipoh earlier, in what has turned out to be his golden season.

Once you understand the players and the game in front, it is easy to take timely decisions. Rajinder emphasised that there were no stars in the team, and all were treated equally, despite the fact that striker Deepak Thakur and penalty-corner specialist Jugraj Singh emerged the two best scorers of the tournament, accounting for 18 of the team's 31 goals from eight matches.

"It is important to make the right substitution at the right time. We had very good bench strength. I could pull out any player out for 10 minutes, and the one taking his place was able to play equally well. The players knew that they would be taken off, if found guilty of selfish play. We knew when to attack, and when to take the pressure off," said Rajinder.

Many times it is not the best team that wins the trophy. A lot of effort goes into ensuring that the best team plays to its capacity. Despite the brilliant start when it ripped Canada, Scotland and Spain, scoring 15 goals and conceding one, in the first phase, India faced the prospect of elimination in the second phase.

"We played every match as if it was the final. We could have been out, had we not beaten Holland in the third match of the second round. To me, all the eight teams in the second round were capable of winning the title. It was a pressure match for us against Holland, and the team responded brilliantly. From that match, we played our best. Beating Germany in the semifinals and then Argentina so comprehensively in the final were wonderful efforts, but it all started from that match against the Dutch," said Rajinder.

The coach pointed out that no team could keep winning all the time. It was thus no wonder that the Indian team lost 1-2 to Australia in the second phase after playing a 2-2 draw with Argentina, which necessitated a win against Holland.

"Actually the Australian team was good. In that match, we missed our chances, and they managed to find the goals. But then, it is all part of the game. The good thing was that we didn't allow the disappointments to erode our confidence, and played our brand of attacking hockey against the Dutch," said Rajinder.

The Indian team had to beat the Germans to get into the medals bracket, and played a skilful game with emphasis on attack to overwhelm the Germans with a brilliant start.

"The German team was very good. Some of its players had played 30 to 40 matches at the senior level. I knew that with our skill, we can dodge any team. We got off to a great start, before the Germans changed strategy to find two goals. We also changed our method, and dominated the last five minutes. We could have won with a better margin, but for our inability to stop the ball in the last few penalty corners", recalled Rajinder. The remarkable transformation from the superleague when the team drew Argentina, to the final, when it thrashed the same team with a 6-1 margin would be the talking point in the years to come.

Rajinder said that the team formed a strategy to ensure that the Indian forwards were not marked in the final as effectively as they were in the league.

"Our plan clicked, and we were able to find the goals in the final. Once Argentina started attacking in the second half, we scored through counter attacks, and outplayed them," said Rajinder.

Though it was Deepak Thakur who kept finding the goals, especially with his hat-trick in the final, Rajinder was all praise for skipper Gagan Ajit Singh, Prabhjot Singh and Vikram Pillay for their efficient play. He also named every player in every position in appreciating the role of each individual.

Having been a fullback and a penalty-corner specialist, who had top-scored in the World Cup in Mumbai in 1981, when playing under Surjit Singh, Rajinder does have a better understanding of the potential of Jugraj Singh.

"He is very young. There is none as good as Jugraj in the country, in taking penalty corners. He scored eight goals in the tournament, and was instrumental in the team having a good conversion rate of the penalty corners. If he keeps working at his game, he can be an international star in the future," said Rajinder.

The coach pointed out that most of the teams had players with considerable experience at the senior level, and that it was no extra advantage for the Indian team to have well-groomed players, who could take the pressure, having tasted quality opposition at the highest levels.

Yet, Rajinder was able to distinguish the difference between the hunger of the juniors and the below-par motivation levels of the seniors. The fact that most of the players settle down to a contented life once they land a secure job, was viewed as the major stumbling block for the Indian senior teams.

"If there are more players fighting for each position, the standard of Indian hockey will go up automatically. Now, with the achievement of the juniors, the standard of the senior team would go up, as there will be more claimants for each slot", said Rajinder.

He, of course, is not too ambitious about taking the next step, the challenges at the senior level. Perhaps, not at the moment, as he has high regard for the national chief coach Cedric D'Souza.

"Cedric has been doing a wonderful job. He has been working very hard with the team, and I pray for good results for the Indian team in the World Cup", said the amiable Rajinder.

The coach also accepts the fact that there cannot be a hard and fast rule for a certain style of play in the modern scenario. Though a firm believer in the Asian style of play, with five forwards in the attacking front, Rajinder concedes that it is for the coach of the team to decide as to what system to follow, depending on the situation and the opposition.

Rajinder Singh is a contented man, though a little upset that he has not got a promotion from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) for the last five years. At the moment, he has a simple target of becoming a 'selection grade' coach, and firmly believes that destiny would give him what he deserves.

Who knows what destiny has in store for this man, the one with the golden touch.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment