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Nationals: The rise of Universities hockey team (5/18/2016)
--K. Arumugam
National Championships: The rise of Universities hockey team

The hectic, gigantic and fruitful domestic season - where six separate championships for each gender were held – is coming to close, its time to look back and pick up strands of positives. Return of Indian Railways as the domestic power either gender, is a heartening thing, for, Indian hockey owes a lot to it for its solid contribution in terms of providing first job opportunity to the budding talents.

The highlight of the sixth Hockey India Senior Men’s Championship (Division A) is undoubtedly the rise of Combined Universities’ hockey team as a force to reckon with, besides various Sports Authority of India teams knocking the doors.

Unbelievable, but it did occur.

undefined Neglected and governed on archaic ways, the Indian Universities’ combined team has been a pathetic passenger in the Nationals for long, despite its potential and history.

Universities are, by definition, where new things ought to occur and innovations need to flow, but strangely hockey in particular was out of sync with those traits.

Its futile now to discuss why our University hockey teams failed for long, for the simple reason it had been done umpteen times.

Suffice to say that if things don’t work one has to think out of box.

At last, last year the Association of Indian Universities, which manages combined sports teams, woke up from its slumber.

It thought out of box. It crossed what it erroneously thought was its Laksman Rekha.

It adopted a befitting Public, Private Partnership Model (PPP).

It worked.

The Combined Universities team, which was in a tough pool at Safai, Etawah, Senior Men’s Championships, surprised many before reaching the semi-final in a majestic way.

Best performance in decades.

The turn-around was made possible due to two vital decisions: first to select and groom the team on professional lines, and secondly to give the coaching job to young and proven mind in Rajdeep Singh.

The lanky former player who till recently was managing the ONGC team and helped it blossom to its full, gave the turn over the team lacked. Records show how ONGC won many laurels including top positions in Inter-Petroleum domain during his tenure.

In an era, where young hockey brains choose easy of umpiring over coaching -which offers comfort life without sweat - Rajdeep Singh's acceptance of coaching challenge in itself is a good augury.

The AIU agreed to give up some of its rights and instead came forward to let Delhi based Nehru Hockey Tournament Society to organize Inter-Zone Universities’ event. A break from tradition set the happy tune, flowing.

Nehru Society, as we all know, doesn’t have financial moorings unlike in the past, yet it was cajoled to offer this platform which it thankfully accepted.

If conceptually right and approach is honest, results will come.

This is the case here.

Nehru Society gave up its traditional Champions Colleges Cup, instead organized the Inter-Zone itself under the same name. Independent selectors were roped in, services of neutral umpires sought, which offered a level playing field for the participating teams.

A month long camp followed. The Society spent turf rent.

undefined

Its here challenge loving Rajdeep Singh got a chance to instil discipline and right attitude with the boys. It was at Delhi’s Shivaji Stadium this writer saw the boys sweating it out for three weeks under Rajdeep.

In the past, a single college represented CU teams and lacked preparations, as AIU has no purse.

Honing individual skills, playing under a pre-determined format, objectivity in whatever is being attempted, were all attempted at the camp.

“The boys are really good, and they should do well”, he said at the conclusion of the camp, which not many took seriously until the results start flowing from Safai.

The icing on the cake was defeating strong Uttar Pradesh, the home team, on its way to the semis. Bhopal was also seen off.

Rajdeep Singh, who attended an FIH Coaching Course in 2013 despite his marriage was very close – indeed he took a day’s leave for his marriage and returned to course the next day -- believed he can deliver and he is well on course to accomplish.

But everyone knows its long way to go before the Universities’ hockey count seriously. It will come with consistently strong performance in the domestic circuit not just in the Nationals.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer.

The team could not move beyond semis, and its an indicator as to the road ahead.

The thing here is everyone concerned seems serious and committed.

If continuity is there countable results will come in future too.

As of now Kudos to Rajdeep Singh and his crack outfit.

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