One of the sad realities of Indian hockey is that we do hear players making their international debuts, but unlike most other sports, players seldom get an opportunity to announce a ‘formal retirement’ from the game – at most times these players are dropped from the national team and we are often keep guessing what are the selectors’ line of thinking as in some cases some players never return to the national fold even they have age and form on their side. “In India a hockey player makes his international debut, but never retires. Look, when you say a player retires he should stop playing all forms of hockey like you see in cricket. As for hockey a player dropped from the national side in India continues playing at the state-level or club-level and there is no clarity from the selectors also. That’s why I’m saying a hockey player in India never retires,” says former Indian hockey captain Rajpal Singh in an exclusive interview.
Rajpal bore the brunt of Hockey India’s ire when he along with his players rejected the shoe-string cash award of Rs 25,000 after India won the Asian Champions Trophy in September, 2011 in Ordos, China. He led the protests against the federation and was not only stripped of his captaincy but also axed from the national side for India’s next international assignment – 2012 Olympics qualifiers held in New Delhi in February 2012. So, effectively the Asian Champions Trophy was Rajpal’s last international tournament and the final in which India beat arch-rivals Pakistan was his last international match. Till date, we are left to only assume that his international career is over, as there has been no clarity from the national hockey selectors on Rajpal. “It wasn’t hard to understand why I was stripped of captaincy and dropped from the national side. I paid a price for taking the lead in protesting for the players’ rights,” the former forward says.
Rajpal, who made his senior international debut at the 2005 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, turns 31 next month and is only seeing things realistically as far as his international career is concerned. “Although it is said everyone lives on hope, the fact that of my former team-mates have become either selectors or coach, it is an indication of where I stand,” Rajpal, who is married to Commonwealth Games gold medallist and Olympian shooter Avneet K Sidhu, observes.
The confabulation veers towards the Indian team's participating in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Rajpal believes the good performance will bode well for the team. “The boys dished out a good performance in CWG, which will keep the boys in a good frame of mind for the Asian Games, where an Olympic berth is up for grabs,” he quips.
Rajpal has many achievements on the hockey pitch, but which are the ones rates very highly. “Winning the 2001 Junior World Cup in Hobart and winning the bronze medal in the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games,” he signs off.
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