Till late 2003, he was the one man the Indian hockey team looked to, to guide them to victory. Jugraj Singh, with his trademark drag-flicks, helped the Indian hockey team finish on the podium in more tournaments than they had done in recent past.
At 24, with his playing career all but over after a major accident, Jugraj is back, this time as a coach. For the past few days, Jugraj has been working with the junior team probables in Gurgaon as a specialist penalty corner coach, with special emphasis on drag-flicks.
“I got a call from the IHF secretary K Jothikumaran, asking me to join in the camp and give some training to the youngsters. I also get to work on my own fitness and train myself to stay in shape,” he said.
For someone who was being talked of as having a slim chance to return to the national fold - especially after his performance in the PHL and Sandeep Singh's freak injury last year - being a coach is quite a change.
“It does feel a bit strange in the beginning,” he admitted. “The chief coach is AK Bansal, who was my coach at the Air India Academy in Delhi.
We used to train under him and now I am training with him, it feels very different. But because of the previous experience, there are no adjustment problems,” he added.
But he is enjoying his stint. Ask him about his role with the trainees and he is enthusiastic. “Right now there are 46 probables, so it is difficult to work on them individually. But we are working on the basics. Drag-flick is there, but penalty corners are a team effort. So we are working on getting the basics right.
“When we started playing, there was no one to guide us on the special skills and practice needed for drag-flicks. It's great to pass on the knowledge that I have gathered. Also, a player cannot simply rely on being good during penalty corners - he needs to contribute with his overall game also. That is where I am involved.”
At his peak, Jugraj was spoken of in the same list as some of the great penalty corner executioners in modern hockey. Add to it his skills in defence, and it appears a good decision.
Jugraj will be with the team till the end of this month, when the team leaves for Germany. “Once the list is pruned, serious drag-flick practice will begin. But there are 3-4 boys who are quite good. They are young and need time to develop,” he said. “I have been asked to be back with them when the return,” he added.