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SAS 2009: Its Time for Harendera to undo the 2004 (4/4/2009)
--K. Arumugam
It is right time for Harendera to undo the 2004 Azlan damage

Azlan Shah Recount: That India will be in the finals of the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh could well be bracketed as well-judged forecast. If India would then overcome the final hurdle that would be construed as a fitting act of consolation by the Chief coach Harendera Singh. For, he has to repair the damage that India has had undergone five summers ago.

For whatever reasons, under whatever conditions, his team finished last in 2004, a hitherto low in this genre of competition.

Historically also Azlan Shah 2004 is an unforgettable one.

The events that marked the early months of 2004 were the real reasons behind India’s dismal show in the August Athens Olympics.

The twosome -- Chief Coach Harendera Singh and manager Dhanraj Pillay -- who are guiding our hopes at Ipoh in the 18th Azlan Shah Cup, were knowingly or unknowingly had a hand in it.

Harendera was the coach, Dhanraj was captain when Indian team participated in the Azlan Shah in January 2004.

Harendera was then coach of the Junior India, and Dhanraj, only three moths ago led India to the first ever Asia Cup crown.

How senior player like Dhanraj was in the team led by the then Junior India coach is still a mystery.

There were so many stories floated the air then, each appearing to carry some weight.

The problem then was plenty – plenty of wins. In 2003 Indian hockey touched a high what with gold at HA Challenge Cup (Sydney), Hamburg Masters, Asia Cup and Afro-Asian Games.

Azlan Shah was the first major assignment in 2004 to carry the legacy of success, but the senior coach Rajinder Singh was shocked when he read in the paper that another coach, with a handful of seniors would travel to Malaysia. In fact, we were given an understanding that the camp he was holding at Manesar (near Delhi) was for the Azlan Shah Cup.

It’s a double whammy for Rajinder, whose head swallowed with the successes of 2003, though those were all regional in context.

He perhaps thought someone else is swallowing his slot.

As a revenge, Rajinder convinced the IHF and went to Japan 6-Nation, an assignment meant for Juniors, who were then preparing for the Junior Asia Cup. The Junior Coach Harendera had to watch his wards’ game from the stands!!

Coming back to the 2004 Azlan Shah, Dhanraj played a superb game against Australia, India’s second match, and the goal he scored snatching the ball from the deep defender in a swift body swerve should rank one the best goals ever scored in the annals of field hockey.

However, in the process he got himself injured and was out of the tournament, with that the team faced defeat after defeat to end at the last.

That injury was taken as a ruse for Rajinder to extract his pound of flesh – dhanraj was left out of Olympic Qualifier. The rest is history.

In the end, we all expect Harendera to bring the Cup, an occasion that can wipe off the bad memories -- and the worst record – of the ghost of 2004.

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