Coaches deserted Viren, say selectors
Viren Rasquinha has asked the national hockey selectors to explain their decision to axe him from the Asian Games team, reports B Shrikant and Uthra Ganesan.
Viren Rasquinha has asked the national hockey selectors to explain their decision to axe him from the Asian Games team, but perhaps he should have directed his query at his coaches — it was they who deserted him when his fate hung in balance during the selection meeting.
Rasquinha had specifically accused “vested interests” in the selection committee of forcing his ouster, and said at a press conference that chief coach V Baskaran had wanted him in the team.
HT has learnt that there were three others players who, the selectors felt, were not in peak fitness, but only Rasquinha suffered because coaches Baskaran and Harendra Singh threw their weight behind the others.
“There were three other players — I cannot name them — who, though not quite unfit, were at the same level of fitness as Rasquinha,” said selector Gurbux Singh.
“But finally, the selection committee went with the coaches’ judgement. Coaches are as much a part of the selection committee as the other selectors, and if anyone told Rasquinha that someone was in his favour and the others against, that is totally false and misleading,” he added.
HT has learnt that Arjun Halappa, who was suffering from a hamstring injury and missed the November 24 trials, was one of the four less-than-fully-fit players whose faced the axe.
Ajit Pal Singh, the government nominee on the selection committee, also stated that Baskaran did not insist on Rasquinha’s inclusion. “The selectors discussed the fitness of every player,” he said. “In fact, if Baskaran wanted, he could have fought for the inclusion of a particular player but he didn’t, and only gave the alternatives in case someone was dropped.”
Gurbux added that apart from fitness, there were issues related to form too. “I would not say who supported whom because once a decision is taken it is the collective responsibility of the entire committee and we stand by the decision,” Gurbux said.
Asked why only Rasquinha was dropped, Gurbux said this question should be put to those who Rasquinha claims supported him. “I don’t believe all these reports that so and so supported such and such player,” he said.
“I don’t think there is any need for an explanation, either from the IHF or the selectors. But Rasquinha is capable of making a comeback,” Gurbux added.
Another selector, SS Sodhi, said there was no conspiracy in Rasquinha’s exit. “This is the same bunch of selectors who have been giving him chances over the years,” Sodhi said.
“Now that he has been dropped, there is talk of conspiracy! With Rasquinha, fitness has not been the only issue. Rasquinha has also become slow. Compared to him, Gurbaj is much fitter and faster.”
Selector Harmeek Singh too rejected the demand for an explanation. Harmeek said that the selectors had picked the best possible squad in the given circumstances.
“We did what we felt was right,” Harmeet said.
Harmeek rejected suggestions that the “Punjab lobby” in the IHF had a role in the inclusion of the inexperienced Gurbaj Singh over the seasoned Rasquinha, who has played over 200 matches for the country. “It was a unanimous decision,” he said.
Asked what was the rationale behind picking a rookie for an experienced player for such a prestigious event, Harmeek said talent matters more than anything else.
“We have given enough chances to everyone, including Rasquinha,” he said. “We too are disappointed that a senior player had to be left out, but that was in the interests of the team.”
Which brings us back to the fact that while fitness may have been an issue, there were other things that led to Rasquinha’s exclusion. By revealing that Rasquinha was not the only player with questionable fitness, Gurbux has made it clear that other considerations had taken precedence over fitness, form and experience.
But if the coaches were not sure of Rasquinha’s fitness, why was he not informed about it earlier? Why was he told to go back mere hours before the team’s departure? And, if there were others who were included because of experience, surely someone with over 200 caps and consistent performance at the top level merits consideration?
It is time the government reviews the role of Ajit Pal Singh, who agreed to the second selection trial even after the team list had been sent to the Asian Games organisers. Ajit Pal has said he has submitted his report, along with the results of the fitness drills, to the government.
K Jothikumaran, the IHF secretary, told HT: “You can write whatever you want. I am only concentrating on the Asian Games and the PHL after that.”
The IHF may not have given explanations in the past but it is time the selection process is made transparent.