Sandeep Singh proves his class in telling manner

May 25th, 2008 - 12:25 pm ICT by admin  

By Avishek Roy

New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) Two years ago, India’s new hockey sensation Sandeep Singh boarded the Delhi-bound Shatabdi Express to join the national camp for the World Cup in Germany. The drag-flicker was all excited thinking about his first major championship. Suddenly the dream was shattered as a Railway Protection Force guard’s revolver went off accidentally and the bullet pierced Sandeep’s spine. The freak accident dealt a big blow to his aspirations. Only diehard hockey fans gave him a chance to recover and return to the hockey turf.

Indian hockey was on the verge of losing another penalty-corner specialist exactly three years after Jugraj Singh’s brief reign at the top came to a premature end in a road accident.

Jugraj, too, was a drag-flicker, the first of the stamped tribe in the country. He was riding a wave of popularity after starring in a memorable back-from-the-brink victory (7-4) against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy at Amstelveen, Holland, in August 2003.

Jugraj suffered multiple fractures and it took two years of rehabilitation work for him to stage a comeback, but he was a pale shadow of his past. The flair and artistry of his magical stick work were not there.

Around that time, Sandeep was making waves in the junior ranks with his remarkable performances in the 2004 Asia Cup and the World Cup the following year. Jugraj’s replacement has arrived. But, even before he could settle down, the spinal injury threatened to end his run. He was depressed.

“Those were the worst days of my life. Doctors said it would take years for me to hold the hockey stick again, but I was determined to prove the medical opinion wrong,” Sandeep told IANS.

Sandeep proved true to his word. He showed steely determination and was back on the turf and in business within nine months.

“If I was back so soon, it is solely because of my family and friends who egged me on to fight back. They knew that hockey was my life and they were my strength,” he said.

“The hockey federation also helped me at that critical juncture, arranging a physio to work with in Holland. I regained a place in the national squad sooner than expected and was in the team for Champions Challenge in Belgium.”

But the return ride was bumpy and he found himself sidelined. It was a long wait, of almost a year, before he hit the high road of form again.

His relations with national coach Jaoquim Carvalho soured and he had to spend a longer period waiting for a recall. Carvalho’s reasoning for keeping him out was said to be his attitude coupled with his lack of recovery as a defender, though the coach had no complaints about his value as a drag-flicker. Raghunath and Diwakar Ram were drafted to do Sandeep’s job.

Sandeep kept proving himself in the domestic circuit and emerged as the top scorer in the Premier Hockey League. Yet, the coach was unimpressed. The selectors made feeble protests when he was left out of Olympic qualifiers.

India for the first time failed to qualify for the Olympics and one of the reasons the pundits trotted out for the debacle was the absence of Sandeep.

In the wake of the disaster and a sting operation that showed the federation’s secretary-general allegedly accepting cash for selection of players, the Indian Hockey Federation, headed by K. P. S. Gill, was thrown out lock, stock and barrel. With it went the old firm of Carvalho and his support staff.

The newly-appointed selection committee of the Indian Olympic Association promptly brought back Sandeep for the Azlan Shah Cup early this month. He emerged as the tournament’s top scorer with nine goals and took the inexperienced side to the final of the championship.

A new hockey set-up and a new coach in A K Bansal had instilled confidence in Sandeep. He made bold to speak up. “Had I been there at Santiago Olympic qualifiers I would have seen to it India made the trip to Beijing.”

Bansal pointedly referred to his defence: “Sandeep has improved as a defender leaps and bounds and is today a match-winner. Come to think of it, he is in Jugraj’s class.” That’s saying something.

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