The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jugraj shouldn’t rush return
We re-establishd ourselves as the 'bad boys' of world hockey

The news of Jugraj Singh’s accident was shocking. It is a huge setback for Indian hockey. Jugraj is one gutsy lad. In the few years that he has been around in the international arena, he has come out as a front-ranking defender-scorer.

I remember the way he took the fast drag-flicks of Pakistan’s Sohail Abbas, the fastest hitter in the world today, on his body and how he then went ahead and scored too. It was a show of brilliance and sheer guts. Let me tell you that if doctors feel the injury is a fully curable one, you will see much more of him.

However, under no circumstances should Jugraj hurry on his way back. This could end his career prematurely. We have seen this in the case of Rajeev Mishra who tried to push his recovery. He did not get the best treatment. Even if Jugraj misses the Athens Olympics, he should give his injury time to heal properly. And I ask for all, including the government and the IHF, to provide him the best possible treatment.

Jugraj still has eight-nine years of good hockey left in him. He can afford this wait.

Jugraj’s injury will be a setback for the team. He improved through the last few outings and had become one of the pillars of the team. There is talk of Baljit Singh Dhillon taking over the penalty corner duties, but Jugraj will be missed in the defence.

Coming back to the Indian performance in the last Champions Trophy, what we basically did was only re-establish ourselves as the ‘bad boys’ of world hockey. The campaign started with a lot of hope. However, firstly we forgot that in our preceding assignments, in Australia and Germany, we had lost to both the host teams. That did dilute our wins. We didn’t carry this knowledge into the Champions Trophy.

Secondly, we don’t realise that arguing with umpires is a pastime that neither the FIH nor the sport around the world in general thinks very well of.

We do need to make several adjustments. They range from the very preliminary stuff like trapping — something we are atrocious at — to sorting the jumble in our heads. There has to be a basic change in attitude in the players, and there has to be some method through which the Indian players can be coached.

I believe Indian hockey players are simply not conducive to coaching. This is not because of any special anathema they have against coaches, but, unlike other disciplines, a hockey player grows up sans a coach and sans any level of strict discipline that is necessary in team play.

Consider the school level, and the club level these days. Where are the coaches' Who are the people who would be expected to take the players through the paces in passing, trapping, the basics of the game, and most importantly, the discipline' Even in clubs, you have ‘coaches’ who see to it that the player is provided with a hockey stick, required ancillary kit and balls. Then they are expected to take control of situations and expected to move through a defence line, a blueprint for which isn’t available.

Coaches step in only at national levels. A sudden shift from the do-it-yourself scenario.

It is a question of a general level of education, too, but that isn’t lacunae enough in theory classes. The idea, and this is a dangerous trend I say, is to not take any notice of what the coach may be saying once you have reached a certain level in the sport in the country. It is the general belief that the star player always outlasts the coach in the team. The frequent change in coaches in the national side lends credence to this theory.

Consider the Champions Trophy. I believe superstar Dhanraj Pillay is to be blamed in the main for the unruly nature of the players. There has to be some knowledge of the rules that an umpire is required to enforce. Today an umpire has the power to change a penalty corner award to a penalty stroke award in case of an unruly protest. He also has the power to withdraw a penalty corner award to an attacking side if it insists on demanding a stroke.

These are aspects that have to be kept in mind. The stars quarrel more — Pillay, Baljit Singh Dhillon, Baljit Saini, Jugraj… One has to remember that when such a star is booked and has to spend time outside the ground, the team does not benefit from his absence.

I’d like to take into account the following that needs to be worked upon.

Consistency (play is in patches)

Too many ifs and buts

Improvement in basics: trapping is faulty, time is wasted in controlling

No right-in or right wing, attack too lopsided in left bias

Playing with practically three forwards, Pillay between the half-backs and forwards, a basically no-man’s land of little use

Too much holding onto the ball and delaying the passes

Defenders scared to tackle and commit, allowing in rival attackers

Poor defending to counter-attacks

Conceding unnecessary penalty corners

No plan for free-hits from outside the circle — you hit in hard and pray for the best

Unable to enforce penalty corners.

All that, while I notice a lack of mental toughness, low level of game maturity, lack of knowledge of own weaknesses and low levels of concentration. That doesn’t make me feel good.

And all this, while the Indians can really play good hockey. Only it comes out in those rather small bursts, too insignificant sometimes, in the international arena.

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