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India's dragflickers grateful to Jugraj
A freak road accident in Jalandhar eight years ago ended the blossoming career of Jugraj.
New Delhi: Drag-flicker Jugraj Singh, now 28, would have been at the peak of his international hockey career had it not been for a life-threatening accident that put him out of competitive hockey in 2003. He is still a part of the national team but as a key figure in the support staff, fine-tuning the skills of the present lot of drag-flickers.
A freak road accident in Jalandhar eight years ago ended the blossoming career of Jugraj. The penalty-corner specialist emerged as an iconic drag-flicker at a time when Indian hockey was struggling to find an answer to Pakistan's Sohail Abbas and Dutch legend Taeke Taekema.
A self-taught penalty-corner specialist, Jugraj is happy passing on the tricks of the trade to Sandeep Singh, V Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh.
India coach Michael Nobbs and the drag-flicker trio feels Jugraj's association with the team since the 2010 Azlan Shah Cup has helped them immensely.
Jugraj doesn't want to delve too much into the past and for him helping the team to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics remains the lone target.
"I can't look back in my life. Obviously if the tragedy hadn't happened, I would have been at the peak of my career by now and preparing myself to play in an Olympics. It is every player's dream to play in the Olympics. I can't turn the clock back, I have to move on. I am grateful to god for giving me a second chance," Jugraj said at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium where the Olympic hockey qualifiers will be held from Feb 18.
Jugraj is also helping the team cope with the situation after conceding a penalty corner. He spends hours on a bowling machine directing balls towards the defenders in the goal.
"The bowling machine comes handy, though we get around 80-90 km per hour, around 30-40 kmph less than the speed at which the ball travels in a match situation. But the drill helps the defenders to use their reflexes to keep the ball out. The main problem about the bowling machine is that it is very accurate and predictable whereas in a match you don't know which way the ball will dart," said Jugraj.
Jugraj had words of praise for India's trio of drag-flickers and picked out Rupinder Pal to become a top drag-flicker.
"Rupinder is very accurate and works hard on his variations. A good defender's strength is his anticipation and Rupinder is good at it. He will be the player to watch out for," said Jugraj.
Rupinder wants to master Jugraj's signature style of drag-flick that was a treat to watch. Jugraj used to pull the ball back and go round before slamming it in.
"That is something that I have been working on. Variations are very important in converting penalty corners. Jugraj's signature style used to take the defence by surprise," said Rupinder.
Sandeep said since Jugraj took over India's penalty conversion rate has improved to 70 per cent.
"Jugraj has been working hard with all the defenders and now we have a fair rate of conversion, which is around 70 per cent. He also tells us how to handle pressure situations," said Sandeep.
Raghunath said Jugraj has also been working with the defenders in negotiating with drag-flicks.
"He was a daring defender. Rarely have we seen defenders rushing out to stop a shot. But during his days he has taken shots in his body as well. It is extremely painful. His experience in stopping penalty corners is helping us a lot," said Raghunath.
Jugraj says he keeps himself updated with the latest techniques in hockey by sharing notes with his mentor Bram Lomans of the Netherlands.
"Lomans has been my childhood idol. I am still in touch with him and we discuss the latest trends in drag-flicking. I share notes with Abbas and Taekema as well," he said.
India coach Nobbs said having Jugraj as an assistant has reduced his workload.
"Jugraj would have been a star player in the team had it not been for that accident. But he is still a part of the team and is helping out the boys," he said.
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