Harendra Singh, who was sacked as the national team coach last Wednesday, has indicated at Hockey India’s interference in team selection for the World Cup. In a letter to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Hockey India, Harendra has alleged that he was asked to remove the names of three players – Rupinderpal Singh, SV Sunil and Birendra Lakra – after the selection trials on November 5 last year, even though the night before the selectors had agreed to include the trio in the 18-member team.
Harendra was responding to Hockey India’s claim that he was given the freedom to choose the squad of his choice during his nine-month tenure. In the official minutes of the meeting – a copy of which was submitted to SAI on January 7 and is available with The Indian Express – Hockey India’s high performance and development committee, which was chaired by Olympian RP Singh, claimed they gave the coach ‘a free hand to select players for major tournaments.’
Harendra, however, has refuted the claim in his reply dated January 8, saying ‘it is not relevant for World Cup selection’. Last week’s correspondences between the two parties highlight the severe disagreements, especially over senior players, between selection committee and the coaching staff. When reached out, Hockey India did not respond to The Indian Express’ queries. Harendra, too, refused to comment. A SAI official said they are likely to call him for a meeting later this month.
India, fielding a largely inexperienced team, lost in the quarterfinals to eventual runners-up Netherlands last month to settle for sixth place in the World Cup, their best finish since the 1994 edition. Harendra, however, has claimed that he chose a young team because the ‘selection committee was not in favour of experienced players.’
Curiously, the World Cup team was chosen even before the selection trials could take place in Bhubaneswar on November 5 last year. “(sic) I disagree with the statement pertaining to the selection of the World Cup 2018. I would here, like to highlight the World Cup Selection meeting held on the 05/11/2018,” he wrote in the letter.
“On the eve of the selection trial for the World Cup, Mr. Harbinder Singh, Olympian & Chairman selection committee and Mr. B.P. Govinda, Olympian & Selector came to meet me at 9:30 p.m.to discuss the team composition for the World Cup. After a lengthy discussion, we amicably agreed with the list of players that I handed them with.”
According to Harendra, drag-flicker Rupinderpal, defender Lakra and forward Sunil were included in the squad. The only dispute was over the inclusion of Gurjant Singh – the striker was not on Harendra’s list but upon Harbinder’s insistence, his name was added. “.all the three of us agreed that tomorrow after the selection trial we would finalize and sign the copy of the final selected squad.”
‘Exclude the trio’
Harendra added that when he returned to the hotel room along with the selectors and Olympian Jagbir Singh, who was the government observer, after the trials the following morning Harbinder asked him to exclude the trio from the squad. He also alleged that during a meeting in Bhubaneswar on November 6, then chairman of the selection committee Harbinder Singh excused himself ‘a couple of times’ to answer phone calls.
“I was taken aback as I was under the impression that we had amicably decided the list, the previous night and were going forward with it. After a lengthy discussion I tried pursuing Mr. Harbinder Ji to drop the idea as this World Cup was extremely crucial and we needed experienced players, especially after losing Sardar Singh after the Asian Games. Nevertheless, my effort to convince him otherwise remained futile,” Harendra wrote.
“Also to note, between our discussions Mr. Harbinder Ji seemed pre-occupied as he excused himself a couple of times, I am not aware about the nature of his discussion on the other end of the phone line.”
Owing to the disagreement, Hockey India summoned all involved in the process to Delhi on November 6. “.on 06/11/2018, at the Hockey India office, CEO Ms. Elena Norman handed us the probable’s list and asked us to select the team and return the list,” he added. “After a lengthy discussion with my coaching staff we decided to select the entirely young team given the fact that the selection committee was not in favor of the experienced players. Thus, the statement saying that I was given ‘free hand’ is not entirely true, as it does not stay relevant for the World Cup selection.”
Eventually, Sunil and Rupinderpal were dropped from the squad while Lakra made the cut. However, the team’s inability to reach the semifinals and defend the Asian Games gold medal earlier in the year resulted in Harendra being shown the door. He is the 25th coach of the Indian hockey team to be sacked in as many years.