Future bright on flicking front, says Jugraj Singh

India is on the right track, feels former drag-flick ace

Player-turned-coach Jugraj Singh, whose career was curtailed by an accident, says emergence of new talent should help resurrect the game. DH PHOTO

The tragedy not only put paid to the talented drag-flicker’s dreams but also deprived the nation of a whole-hearted and fearless defender who stood like a rock to anything that tried getting past him.

Seven years on, India is still in the process of unearthing a force like him who could capture the imagination of the fans with his sizzling drag-flicks and draw thier admiration with his astute work at the back. However, the Punjabi, who is here as a penalty corner coach at the national camp, feels the country is on the right track and the emergence of new talent -- like his ward Rupinder Pal Singh -- should resurrect the game.

“It was a really unfortunate thing,” said Jugraj of the accident that ended his career at a tender age of 24. “If I wasn’t injured in the accident then I would have been part of the camp as a player. That is a different story anyway. Thankfully, by the grace of god, I have got a second chance to serve my country and that’s what I am doing. I’m quite happy with this new assignment and hope to contribute a lot.”

Jugraj, who was behind the wheels of the car on that fateful night of September 2, 2003, spoke very highly of the current crop, especially Rupinder. “Sandeep Singh has been the main guy for a while now. But, we’ve unearthed a very good talent in Rupinder. I’ve been working with him for the last one year and he has shown a lot of improvement. V R Raghunath and Diwakar Ram are also really good. There are a few new boys as well -- Karanpal Singh and Harpreet Singh. So the numbers are there and we hope to groom them,” said Jugraj, who arrived in Bangalore late on Monday.

Jugraj said Rupinder has got all the skills to make it big. “I worked with Rupinder in the last tournament -- Sultan Azlan Shah Cup -- and achieved very good results. He was the only drag-flicker we had and the youngster did very well, emerging as the joint highest goal scorer.

“The best part about him was the accuracy. It’s easier to judge from the outside. Before every penalty corner, Rupinder and I used to have a chat and I used to tell him what to do. He shot wherever I had told him to hit. Accuracy, strength and anticipation are the three most important attributes for a drag-flicker and he has all of that. I am hopeful that in time to come he will be the rockstar of Indian hockey.”

Often in the past India have squandered a healthy lead to end up on the losing side and Jugraj felt a lot of work has to be done in this regard. “We’ve been found wanting in defence for the last 2-3 years. But, Rupinder has emerged as a real find. He did a great job in Azlan Shah and won three man-of-the-match awards. Defence is the mort important thing and we need to be always active.

“Apart from helping the boys in penalty corners -- both in taking them and defending -- I will also work closely with the backs. India got the most penalty corners in the Azlan Shah Cup but we conceded the least. Rupinder and Gurwinder Singh Chandi showed good skills in rushing.”

While attributing his success to initial lessons from Baljit Singh Dhillon and subsequent interactions with Indian coach Cedric D’Souza and Dutch ace Bram Lomans, Jugraj said India need at least four penalty corner specialists in the core group of 30 to be successful.

Jugraj, with no coaching certificate, said his age and friendly rapport with the players could make a difference. “I’ve not done any coaching course. I always believe that you can learn anything from anybody.  Till today I am learning something or the other and the process will go on until my death. It’s better to be friend with the players rather being very serious. I can feel their vibe and if I am closer to them, a personal rapport is built as well. But, most importantly, they need to know their limits and stay within that.”

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