The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saini wonders what keeps him out

Calcutta: A year after being dumped from the national team, Baljit Singh Saini is still waiting for a recall.

A member of India’s disastrous World Cup campaign early last year, Saini was ignored for both the major championships thereafter — Busan Asian Games and the Champions Trophy. And the non-resident Calcuttan has no clue as to why he is being kept out.

“It was suggested in some quarters I was dropped because of fitness and injury problems, but that is total rubbish,” said the Bhowanipur boy who is in the city leading Punjab & Sind Bank in the Beighton Cup.

“I am fit as a fiddle as you can see and ready to take on any responsibility.”

He is training harder than ever before, Saini said. “When I was an India regular, there was not much time to concentrate on fitness training as there would be tours galore. For the last 12 months, the foreign assignments aren’t there and I have been working really hard.”

He did look a tad slow in PSB’s win over CRPF at CCFC Friday, but Saini had an explanation for that. “See you can’t play at a fast pace for too long on grass surfaces like these, you have got to slow down the game… that’s what we were doing.”

Of the 12-13 tournaments PSB participate in the domestic calendar, the Beighton is the only one they play on grass. “It’s a lot different than playing on astroturf but we still come here because I am the local boy and we have won a few times,” Saini said.

One thing has puzzled Saini no end — the selectors have found no genuine right-half to replace him. “S.S. Gill, who used to be my reliever when I was in the team, is not a full-time member now and they have been using Jugraj (Singh) as the right-half. So why can’t they use my services,” Saini wondered.

Skipper of the 1997 junior World Cup-winning squad, Saini went on to lead the senior team twice as well — at four-nation meets in Australia and Germany. But getting back the captaincy is the last thing on his list of priorities now.

“I just want to get back to the national team and show I still belong there,” Saini announced.

He will be 28 in four months’ time. But age, Saini feels, is no barrier to playing for the country.

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