| Saini will strive for a Champions Trophy berth
Calcutta: Baljit Singh Saini’s chequered career took another U-turn Monday when he was named in the 20-member Indian hockey squad for the tour of Australia beginning later this week. The specialist right-half from Bhowanipore had been out in the wilderness for over a year, having last donned India colours at the Kuala Lumpur World Cup in February-March 2002.
“It’s obviously a great feeling after being out of the team for so long,” Saini told The Telegraph from Bangalore where the Indian players are going through their paces at a month-long camp. “As I had said before, I never gave up hope. It’s good to see the selectors rewarding me for the hard work I’ve put in all these months.”
The key to the comeback, according to Saini, is his fitness. “I was playing well all along, but I knew I had to keep myself fit. I trained hard with my office team Punjab & Sind Bank and played all the tournaments for them… that was the motivation I needed.”
The man who led India when they emrged runner-up in the junior World Cup six years ago, is aware that this is just the first step for him. “This team is only for the twin meets in Australia… another four-nation tournament in Germany will follow and then will come the big one, the Champions Trophy in Amsterdam. Booking a ticket for Amsterdam is the real aim,” said Saini.
“This (Australia) tour will be a big test for me… I know I have to do well both on the performance and fitness fronts,” Saini observed. “All eyes will be on the comeback players as they will be eager to see how we cope up in competitive matches after a long gap. I have to reproduce my old form. There will be pressure, but I am confident of handling it.”
The team leaves for Perth on Saturday. The second leg of the meet will be in Sydney.
That he is the only genuine right-half among the 20 makes Saini feel more or less secure. “I think I’ll be a regular playing member but I can’t afford to take too much time to strike my best form.”
The Bangalore camp has been on from April 28 and Saini liked working under coach Rajinder Singh for the first time. “He’s different from the other coaches I’ve been under. Rajinder depends on the 5-3-2 format which represents the traditional Asian style.”