| India coach Rajinder Singh (right) says the players are like his children
Lucknow: A day after their ugly, public fracas, Indian hockey coach Rajinder Singh and captain Dhanraj Pillay were in a conciliatory mood and tried to downplay the incident.
The incident, which happened soon after the team landed in Chennai, on their way home from Kuala Lumpur marred the euphoria of their maiden Asia Cup triumph.
Defending his stand, Rajinder said, “Whatever I did was in the interest of the team and the country.” In a lighter vein, he added that he did not spare the rod where was discipline was concerned. Pillay said the matter was best forgotten.
“As a coach I have a right over the players but a captain is also responsible for the team,” the coach said during a function organised by sponsors Sahara.
On the team’s victory, Rajinder said it was made possible through “team work and discipline”. The coach said he “enjoyed a very good relationship” with the team members. “They are like my sons,” he said.
Pillay, while urging mediamen not to dwell too much on the incident, said, “No one published the photograph showing me offering a cake to the coach.”
Rajinder also said that there was no need to appoint a foreigner to train the Indian hockey team as there was enough talent within. “There are some very good coaches in the country and there is no need to go for a foreign coach,” Rajinder said.
“I have trained teams right from the school level to the national level and would continue to give my best to the team and the country,” he said.
Rajinder, who led the junior team to a World Cup win in 2001, cited the example of Malaysia and said, “Despite having a foreign coach for the last five-six years the Malaysian team had failed to perform well at the international level.”
The victorious Indian team paid an emotional tribute to injured defender Jugraj Singh. "We dedicate the Asia Cup to our Jugraj," declared Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) secretary Jothikumaran even as each member of the team garlanded Jugraj with their individual medallion.
Pillay presented the replica trophy to a tearful Jugraj. “Jugraj was part of the team that won the Asia Cup. We did not feel he was out of the team," Pillay said. “He kept speaking to us everyday over phone, he kept telling we have to beat Pakistan and win the Cup," he said.
Coach Rajinder said Jugraj had great will power which will see him back in action soon. "When I asked him (Jugraj) when he will be back on the field, he said 'you tell me now, I will be on the field'. He has such self-belief and confidence," Rajinder said.
"His slot is still vacant in the team. It is an important position (that of drag flicker) that he played, and we want him to make quick recovery," the coach said.
Meanwhile, according to the doctor attending him, Jugraj may not be able to get back on the field as early as a few officials were predicting there was some positive news about the player's recovery.
"Since he came here, we have been able to make him sit on the bed," said Dr Laljie Kent of the city hospital where Jugraj was shifted on Sunday from Ludhiana.
Jugraj sustained multiple fractures from a car crash last month. Plans are afoot to take him to a hospital in the US, once he begins to walk with crutches, for faster rehabilitation. That, however, was at least "six-seven weeks" away, said Kent.
“The next step is to try and make him sit on a chair, and possibly in the next six-seven weeks to make him stand (with support),” he said.
Kent's comments on the player's recovery process might differ from what K.P.S. Gill, president of the IHF, had to say on Jugraj.
“He (Jugraj) has to play in the Olympics (next August in Athens), he has got the will power to do that. In my opinion, he should be back on the field in two-three months,” Gill said.