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The Rediff Interview/Indian hockey coach Rajinder Singh

March 01, 2004

Rajinder Singh, chief coach of the Indian hockey team, is one of the many coaches the Indian Hockey Federation has appointed these last two years. The no-nonsense former India half-back is a strict disciplinarian. Last year he rebuked Dhanraj Pillay for speaking out of turn soon after the team returned from Kuala Lumpur after winning the Asia Cup.

Rajinder SinghMany believe the animosity between the two men continues and that is why the ace forward and former India captain has been left out of the team for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Madrid, beginning on Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh, Rajinder Singh denied this.

"I have no problem with Dhanraj. He is a great player," the coach said, before flying to Madrid.

Are you satisfied with the team that has been selected?

I am fully satisfied with the team given to me for the Olympic qualifying matches to be played in Madrid from March 2 to 12. Dilip Tirkey, as captain, and the boys who have made it to the team are the best available talent in the country. Most of these boys have been playing for the country for last three/four years; they have also played the Junior World Cup and other international tournaments. In each of these events they gave a good account of themselves. They have always given their best and, hopefully, this time also they will do the same.

Former captain Dhanraj Pillay has not been included in the side. Why?

One of the reasons why he could not make it to the team was that he did not attend the camp. As I am told, Dhanraj spoke to the president of the Indian Hockey Federation, K P S Gill, and decided to withdraw his name on the grounds that he is not fully fit. His knee is still giving him trouble. That could be another reason why he is not there in the side.

There are rumours that he was not included because he and you do not get along. Is it true?

This is media speculation. I have no problem with Dhanraj. He is a great player. So what is being said about so-called differences is not true at all. The main reason why he is not there is because he did not attend the camp; he is also not fully fit.

Any possibility of Dharaj coming back to the squad for the Olympics?

He can, but that will be subject to his fitness. If he is fit and continues to play the kind of hockey he is known to have played in the past, he can come back to the team. But the key is he should be fit.

What about the rest of the boys? Are they fit and fine?

All those who are in the side are fully fit and fine, and raring to go. The forward line, comprising Baljit Singh Dhillon, Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh, is combining well. They are playing real attacking hockey. They did reasonably well at the camp in Gurgaon, in Haryana, and, hopefully, should click at Madrid as well.

What kind of challenge do you expect in Madrid?

Our first match is against Belgium. Then we play Canada and Pakistan next. The pool in which we have been drawn is by no means an easy one. We got to take all our matches seriously and win all the games to ensure that we are on the right track.

At one time India used to come back with the Olympic gold medal; now we have to qualify. Is it not humiliating?

Times have changed. It is no longer the old hockey that we used to play. The game is now being played on astro-turf. It is modern hockey, which is played at a very fast pace. Other nations are putting in a lot of money and hard work; they are doing well.

We have just 20 astro-turfs in the country. When the base is poor, naturally we end up at the bottom. In last few years we have done well. We are coming up in a big way. So the future of Indian hockey is bright. I can assure you about that.

How do you rate our forward line?

This is the best forward line available in the country. We have Gagan Ajit Singh, Arjun Halappa, Baljit Dhillon, Prabhjot Singh, Sandeep Michael. They have played well in the last two or three years. They gave good performances in the Asia Cup and the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad last year.

Why does our defence collapse when under pressure?

This happens not only with our team, but with other teams as well. Things look good when the team is winning; when it is losing and under pressure any defence goes for a six. It is a game of nerves. Whoever manages to keep their nerves under control wins matches.

Devesh Chauhan, our goalkeeper, is giving a good performance on a regular basis. He has improved a lot and I am confident he will do well in this tournament.

Do you miss Jugraj Singh?

Of course, we do miss him. Since he was involved in a road accident we are training Len Aiyappa and Baljit Dhillon for penalty corners. Hopefully, we should do well in this department as well because we have a lot of variations.

Will the team travel to Athens?

Definitely, positively! My target is not just to qualify for the Olympics but also do well at Athens and end up in a good position. God willing, we will achieve our target and do better and better in days to come.

Image: Imran Shaikh

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