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I AM HAPPY BUT.......... (2/23/2001)
--K. Arumugam
Saturday, March 23, 2001

A talk with Rajbir Rai, who played for India for 14 years

Rajbir calls spade a spade. This has been the former India captain's characteristic feature all along 14 years he had represented India. This unmistakable feature of her was not to be missed here at the Olympian Surjit Hockey Stadium in her hometown, Jalandhar , where the 51st edition of the Senior Women National Championship is underway. After witnessing both the semifinals played today, she did not feel elated as some of her colleagues did as Punjab, which Rajbir used to represent, reached the final after a gap of 17 years. Punjab last reached the final of the most prestigious of domestic tittles in 1995, in which year Rajbir retired from both from national and international hockey.

"Haryana played better hockey, but Punjab won here," was here cryptic comment. Sure, all from Punjab must have been happy to see their team in the final after a long long time. But, I am worried as the tournament did not provide any worthy competition. Most of the players participating in the tournament did not prepare well. Because, it's not a right time to hold Championship of this nature. This is college examination time. Many teams reached here without undergoing practice in any camp. one state team even pulled out citing the exam as the reason. Most of the players are therefore performing below their potential. Even the watering system here in the ground seems to be faulty as one of the striking circle area is always dry. If the surface is dry, then it behaves like natural grass. That is the reason why Haryana could not make use of some crucial penalty corners today," she said.

Even she did not agree with most of the die hard Punjab fans on the matter of protest lodged by the Haryana management. Haryana protested successfully the inclusion of Ruhi Dhillon in the Punjab team as she belongs to Chandigarh. "Their protest is correct. Punjab should have taken No Objection Certificate from Chandigarh, which is a routine, normal procedure."

He prediction about the final: "You see, Indian Railways is always an India team. We in the past too used to reach the final everytime only to lose the Railways. I don't see anything different now. But, I am happy boh Balwinder Kaur and Mukta Xalco are playing well in the Punjab side. Even if Ruhi Dhillon plays tomorrow, that, I feel, will not make any difference to the Railways."

Indian Railways led by Manjinder Kaur has reached the final of the Championship for the record 18th time, having won all the previous 17 times.

It is also learnt that Rajbir refused to select the Punjab team. On asked about it, the top scorer of the 1982 Asian hockey, said, " Yes, you heard correctly. How I would select the team without any camp. The players were not undergoing any practice session, or camp. I can't be doing justice just I select the team without watching for a reasonable period of time."

"There is a big problem in Punjab. The talent is not coming up. The State sports department has even closed down women wings. Unless, more players take up, hockey cannot progress or prosper".

But she is happy about her family where the hockey tradition is being kept up. Jugraj Singh, who scored 7 goals in the Junior World Cup, is my nephew. Another nephew of mine, Harmik Singh, too represented India B in two tournaments recently. My elder sister's son, Bavjosh, now 15, has come all the way from United Stated of America, to learn hockey. He is presently undergoing training in the Surjit Academy in Jalandhar. They are all USA citizen, but hockey brings them back here."

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