Heroes� welcomefor world -beaters

New Delhi, Oct. 23: 
For fourteen years, October was the cruellest month for Rajinder Singh, coach of the first-ever World Cup-winning national junior hockey team.

It was in October 1987 that Railways sacked the legendary defender for not returning to duty.

Rajinder, who scored a record 12 goals in the 1981 Bombay World Cup had gone to the US for treating an injured knee. For three years after that he was unemployed before becoming a coach in a local school, Union Academy.

Though the pain and rejection still rankles, the wheel has turned full circle now for the burly Rajinder. Amidst the hysteria and joy at the airport he said, a touch philosophically, �I could not get a world title as a player but I have got it as a coach.�

Rajinder landed in Delhi along with ten of his players today, the remaining eight having disembarked at Mumbai.

In the reception committee at the airport were ex-Olympians M.P. Ganesh, Sujit Kumar and Ashok Kumar, who scored the matchwinner in the 1975 Senior World Cup.

The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) President K.P.S. Gill, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Union sports minister Uma Bharti have all promised the players and the coach Rs. 1 lakh each.

The most sought after players were Deepak Thakur (son of a government driver in Una, Himachal Pradesh), skipper Gagan Ajit (son of 1976 Olympian Ajit Singh), penalty corner expert Jugraj Singh (nephew of former Indian women�s skipper Rajbir Kaur) and dashing goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan from Etawah. Deepak was garlanded with ten-rupee notes by his relatives.

Gagan Ajit and Rajinder extolled the virtues of team spirit and the traditional system of play. The coach, now employed by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) said, �The turning point was when we beat Netherlands 4-3 to reach the semis.�

He was all praise for the consistency shown by Thakur, midfielders Bimal Lakra and Ignatius Tirkey, forward Prabhjot Singh (five goals) and Jugraj Singh.


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