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Respect delivering coaches like Bansal (3/12/2007)
--s2h team
In 2001, when Ajay Kumar Bansal, the 2007 PHL Champion Coach, was in charge of national women’s team, he confronted with a selection problem.

The Indian Women Hockey Federation was unwilling to give him his choice of play-maker in Manjinder Kaur. He fought for her and in the end got her too – for the New Zealand Test series in the run up to Amiens’ World Cup Qualifier. When Manjinder scored a goal against the Kiwis in the first Test at Whankeri, Bansal confessed: “She scored that goal for me, to prove I was correct in rooting for her”.

The incident is yet again a proof how players go full steam to live up to the expectation of coaches who repose faith in their ability.

Coach-player relationship is a magic potion. If sound, it can ignite battlefields. If not, even legends and stars fail even before minnows. It was the chemistry between captain Florian Kunz and coach Bernhard Peters that gave Germany the World Cup at KL in 2002.

In the recent years, the main problem the national teams of India faced was lack of mutual respect between coaches and players. Neither coaches believed their players are winners, nor the players had any great opinion of coaches under whom they have to perforce work. Quite expectedly, the team slipped from one nadir to another.

In the bleak scenario, the Orissa Steelers success at the hugely popular third edition of PHL recently at Chandigarh infuses a whiff of fresh air.

See this small byte. Soon after the title win on last Monday, a television commentator asked captain Dilip Tirkey’s comment on his team’s secret of success. One of the reasons the tribal star gave, even as a torrent of sweat on his face is bursting in seam, was, “we have a father-like coach in Bansal saab”.

As the one known for economy of words and never indulges in publicity exercise, Dilip Tirkey could not have put his perspective in a better way. Like his long carpet shots, it is straight into the target.

He has said it enough: It’s the respect they have for the coach that translated into a terrific performance on the field.

Be true to yourself. And tell how many of us thought the Steelers will be the this year’s PHL champions? Are we not bogged down by the belief that adivasis are yet to prove themselves as a breed of good scorers. And tell me how many adivasi forwards we know of match winners? Excellent defenders; good midfielders. These are the two sobriquets the gifted tribe carried even since defender Jaipal Singh Munda of Ranchi, the first tribal star to play for India, descended on the scene in the early 1920s.

And now look at the statistics of PHL 2007. Orissa Steelers scored maximum field goals and had better penalty corner conversion rate. Sunil Ekka’s neat deflection of a perfect cross from his captain in the first match opened our eyes. Be it left winger Bruno, right winger Damandeep Singh, centre-forward Minz, or substitute striker Sameer Dad, everyone chipped in. In every match, save once, the Orissa Steelers player, their member earned the Lion of the Day award. Win or lose, the award came knocking them.

How it happened? The players played for the coach whom reposed faith in them. His down to earth pep talks, which ESPN ground team often captured to the merriment of television spectators, if anlaysed will prove how much he relied on each player for a specific assignment. If the player failed in it, how he motivated them using every trick in the trade.

Orissa Steelers’ success lie in the team selection. This Orissa Steeler is a team that the coach alone selected. Thankfully for him there is none in the Orissa Hockey Association to interfere. This is the situation a honest coach commands. Bansal has given Orissa the second division win last year and invested faith in the OHA. Over the decade he earned name for being unbiased. That’s why he got the rare freedom that other of his ilk would only envy.

Having freedom to select team is one thing and selecting the best available talent is quite another. From Balkishen down to Cedric D’Souza had free hand to select their teams, but could they select the best all the times? You can’t be sure.

Here is one thing that separates Bansal from others. He is on the ground every day. Being in-charge of Delhi based Air India Academy, he is habitually tuned to spot talents at young age and grooming them from the beginning of their career. In simple words, this is how coaches are expected to be. But look at our national scene. Most of our national coaches are sudden invitees, thriving on their personal, past achievement as a player. They had no glue what is going on in the domestic scene when all of a sudden got the plum post. How can you expect them to select the best talent when they are almost out of sync with the reality. As Ballal often says, they select team based on media reports!

Freedom comes with a cost of accountability

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