Arms crossed, 1980 Olympics gold medalist Rajinder watched the Belgians cross India’s tormentor in the crossovers, New Zealand. It took him back to 1982 when India had bracketed New Zealand 3-2 in the classification crossovers before finishing fifth in the tournament. Here the team is relegated to fight in the 9th-16th place playoffs.
But even before India was ousted from the title race here, Rajinder had something ticked off – a supposed rejection by Ice Hockey Indiawhich shattered the Dronacharya award winner as he watched some former Indian stars get VIP treatment.
“I’m disappointed. I had to struggle to get tickets, while no one in the federation responded to my attempts to get in touch,” claimed the 65-year-old, who was also champion as a coach in the Junior World Cup victory in India in 2001.
Rajinder also served as India coach after finishing his playing career and currently works at RoundGlass Sports in Chandigarh, having retired from Indian Railways. He was the coach at the 2003 Asia Cup when the current president of Hockey India Dilip Tirkey was part of India’s rearguard and the team won the title by beating Pakistan 4-2 in the final.
Like all of India, Rajinder had high hopes from Indian captain and penalty corner expert Harmanpreet Singh. He even thought Harmanpreet had a shot at breaking his record.
In the past, drag-flick had yet to be invented. The stopper used to enter the circle to stop the injection (push from the baseline), reducing the distance between the ball and the goalpost, making the direct hit more powerful. Rajinder was a master of art.
“I had high hopes for Harman, to the extent that he would break my record. But things went so badly that the only goal he scored was when the opponent (Wales) had withdrawn their goalkeeper,” Rajinder told TimesofIndia. com.
As many pundits have said since India’s defeat in the crossovers, Rajinder too believes calling a penalty corner expert a month before the World Cup was a wrong decision and disrupted the rhythm of Harmanpreet, who also lacked support as he had before Rupinder Pal Singh retired.
Former Dutch drag-flicker Bram Lomans teamed up with Indian PC experts for a week-long camp last December.
“Having a penalty corner camp with an expert just a month before the World Cup may have confused Harman and he was completely out in the World Cup,” said Rajinder. “I didn’t even see the team’s variations being effective when they tried that on set pieces. We should have seen more (different) variations.”
He also disagreed with the idea that the team needs a mental trainer or psychologist to deal with pressure situations. Rajinder said it is coach Graham Reid’s duty to play that role as well.
“I think the coach is responsible (for this fiasco). I read somewhere that the players were under mental stress. If that is the case even after playing 200-250 games, then I think the coach (his role is not played well) He doesn’t feel like being the coach of the team anymore,” Rajinder said without mincing words.
He even advocated that an Indian coach be put back at the helm, or at least be groomed and trained to be next in line.
To Hockey India’s credit, the federation is running a ‘Coaching Education Pathway’ program, but Rajinder argued that the trend of hiring foreign coaches is still in vogue.
German Gerhard Rach was the first foreign hockey coach to reach the Indian coast. Since then, Jose Brasa, Ric Charlesworth (director), Michael Nobbs, Terry Walsh, Paul van Ass, Roelant Oltmans, Sjoerd Marijne and current coach Reid have been part of that list.
“While our Prime Minister promotes ‘Make in India’. When are we going to apply that to hockey coaches?” Rajinder asked.
“This is the responsibility of Hockey India, to train and improve coaches and identify the areas where they fall short. The Indian coaching fraternity will completely disappear if we continue to attract foreign coaches and do not trust the available coaches in the country.
“An Indian coach will be willing to risk his life for the team if he or she gets the same treatment.”
Indian hockey is entering a crucial phase where the supply chain benefits of the Hockey India League and the victory of the 2016 Junior World Cup will be completely consumed by the Paris Olympics.
Only one player from the 2021 World Junior Championships, Vivek Sagar Prasad, is part of this World Cup squad. And Vivek was already playing for the senior team before he managed the junior team.
“A crucial phase is coming for Indian hockey. This current group will stay together until the Asian Games or maybe the 2024 Olympics… We should be building a team for the future,” said Rajinder.
“Climbing higher in the world rankings by playing in the Pro League, where many opponents sometimes do not field their first-choice players, is an incorrect premise (to document growth). In my opinion, our team’s performance is still not up to par. top-four level.”
Rajinder is a master at creating champions. Be it the Union Academy school in Delhi, the 2001 junior world champions or the 2003 Asia Cup winners, the twist in his mustache becomes more upright upon hearing those mentions.
On Wednesday, he and some friends went out to see the sights.
“I’m going to the Konark Temple,” he said.
“I hope to be back in time for the last two quarter-finals. Let’s see.”