Although circumstances robbed him of a potentially glorious career, Jugraj Singh does not appear unduly weighed down by what-could-have-beens. India's penalty-corner coach seems, instead, reasonably at ease with the state of things.
The latest member of staff to arrive at the National hockey camp at the Sports Authority of India here, the 28-year-old spoke to the press on Tuesday, discussing his role in the group and expressing thrill at young protégé Rupinder Pal Singh's prospects.
“I had a chat with [Michael] Nobbs in the morning,” he said. “First of all, we have to decide how many flickers we're going to have in the next camp…probably four or five. In this camp, we had eight flickers. Obviously Sandeep [Singh] is there, and the recent find is Rupinder Pal. I've been working with him for the last one year; he's pretty good. He's shown a lot of improvement. (V.R.) Raghunath is also there. There are a few new boys like Karanpal and Harpreet.”
Drag-flicker Rupinder Pal emerged top-scorer at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in May, with the 20-year-old's performances one of few bright spots in India's campaign that ended with the team finishing sixth.
“I was sitting outside and watching the movements of the other goalkeeper,” Jugraj said.
“Before every short corner, I just asked him to come to me. I told him what to do. We used good variations and we used some direct flicks. The helpful thing was accuracy — he pushed wherever I asked him to. The main things are accuracy, strength and anticipation. He's definitely a good student.”
Accuracy, Jugraj admitted, was where focus lay. “We've been lacking in accuracy. They (the team's drag-flickers) have good power but they have to anticipate where they should push the ball — what the position of the goalkeeper is and which the easiest pass to score is.”
With head coach Michael Nobbs' emphasis on multi-skilled players, Jugraj said there would also be attention on training them as defenders.
“We've been lacking in that zone for the last two-three years. Now, we've worked on Rupinder Pal. He was very good in defence (at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup) and in three matches he got the best player award.”
A tinge of disappointment notwithstanding, Jugraj expressed satisfaction with his assignment. “If I hadn't been injured in the accident, I would have been playing here. That is a different story. With the grace of God, I've got a second chance to serve my country. I'm quite happy.”
With members of the National Selection Committee in attendance, the first day of trials at the National hockey camp commenced at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus on Wednesday.
The three-day selection trials process will see the current group of 88 whittled down to 48. Under the eyes of selectors B.P. Govinda, Col. Balbir Singh and A.B. Subbaiah, Hockey India Executive Director, Anupam Ghulati, and Government advisor Dilip Tirkey, the first set of 30-minute matches was held.
With the more-established players excluded from the trials for the moment, the overspill from the 48 will enter the development squad.
The surface at the SAI, however, remains a cause of some concern, and there is a possibility that some portion of the trials will be held on the premises of the Madras Engineering Group, a venue the camp had moved to, for two days, last week.