There is a hint of astonishment, a bewildering sense of ‘how did I do that’ as Jugraj Singh recollects charging in the direction of Sohail Abbas with none protecting gear. “Not even an abdomen guard,” he specifies.
The police officer has since engaged in life-threatening combats, be it gunning down three terrorists within the Gurdaspur anti-terror operation in 2015 or as a frontline Corona warrior proper now. But on the time, 17 summers in the past, stopping a Sohail Abbas drag-flick appeared to him as his largest act of bravery.
And that’s how India’s group-stage match towards Pakistan on the 2003 Champions Trophy in Amstelveen is remembered even immediately. Not as a high-scoring thriller, not for Gagan Ajit Singh’s exceptional tomahawks, however merely because the ‘Jugraj Singh match.’ He stood out, not simply due to the printed bandana. But due to his expertise, pace and sheer bravado.
This was not a tactical battle. There was no deployment of cynical techniques or employment of shrewd methods. In the yard of the game’s best thinkers, who worth enjoying inside a construction over the whole lot else, this match offered the responsible pleasure of watching two groups so fluid and a bunch of gamers so spontaneous that one merely needed to cease fussing about defence traces not working in sync or the midfield just about being non-existent for big elements.
This was a breath-taking ode to sub-continental hockey: a compulsive, all-consuming urge to assault by two heavyweight sides comprising males who may accomplish that stylishly. Pakistan had Rehan Butt, Waseem Ahmad, the 2 Alis – Muddassar and Ghazanfar – Mohammad Saqlain, Muhammad Nadeem, Zeeshan Ashraf and, in fact, the legendary Abbas. India boasted of Pillay, the 2 Baljits — Dhillon and Saini — Dilip Tirkey and the bunch from its golden era, the 2001 Junior World Cup-winning squad – Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit, Prabhjot Singh, Viren Rasquinha and, lest we overlook, Jugraj.
As far as the standard of the line-ups go, one will probably be hard-pressed to seek out such heavily-loaded Indian and Pakistani groups because the flip of the century. There was so much at stake, together with reputations.
The Champions Trophy, a now-defunct match, was the third-most vital competitors within the worldwide hockey calendar after the Olympics and the World Cup. A mini-World Cup, if one could name it so, during which the highest six of the world confronted off in a league-cum-knockout format.
The match, performed on a pleasing August night, was the final of the group stage for either side. Pakistan was a facet teeming with confidence, having trounced Germany 5-2 within the earlier match. And simply how good they have been in assault could possibly be gauged by trying on the variety of objectives they scored in every match – 4 versus Australia, six towards Argentina, two to carry the Netherlands and 5 towards Germany. A win would have ensured them a spot within the last for the primary time in 5 years.
India, then again, had only one win (3-2 vs Germany) and going into this match, had suffered two heavy defeats: 4-1 towards Australia and 4-2 by the hands of Argentina. They weren’t in competition for the ultimate, however nonetheless had a shot at bronze.
‘Apne dil di kar lo’
On the morning of the match towards Pakistan, nevertheless, the group felt slightly flat. “We sat together and were having a light chat, trying to understand the problem. We were playing well but were still losing,” Jugraj says. “There was pressure and the expectations were high. Losing the first game (4-3 to the Netherlands) was a setback. So before playing Pakistan, we told our coach (Rajinder Singh), let us relax.”
There was no elaborate strategising earlier than the sport. Rajinder, Jugraj says, gave the gamers only one recommendation: ‘apne dil di kar lo’ (do what your coronary heart says). “So on the field, we were the players and we were the coach. Our coach gave us that much freedom,” Jugraj says.
For Jugraj, that freedom meant only one factor: placing his physique on the road. He was moved from his common position as a defender and positioned on the precise of midfield, to assist the group in each organising assaults in addition to bailing out the defence.
But inside seconds of the match beginning, it grew to become amply clear what his largest problem could be: stopping Abbas’ drag-flicks, which felt extra like shells being fired from a howitzer. In these few seconds, nevertheless, it additionally grew to become clear to Pakistan, and Abbas, that they have been up towards a cussed, strongly-built defender who was ready to danger his life however not let the ball previous him.
“I admired Sohail bhai a lot. When you get a chance to play against a player whom you have seen when you started your career, it gives you an extra boost. So I just went all out, not thinking about the consequences,” Jugraj says.
Back then, hockey’s guidelines allowed a first-rusher – the participant accountable to cost out of the aim first and shut down a drag-flicker’s angles – to immediately run within the line of the ball (it has since been amended to make sure extra security and now, the defender ‘must be penalised for dangerous play’).
Pakistan earned a penalty nook from the sport’s first play, within the opening minute, and simply when Abbas was about to unleash his flick, Jugraj blocked it by permitting the ball to hit his physique. “The rule was that if it hit the rusher’s body, above his knee, then it would be considered a foul by the attacking side. So that is how we chose to defend. It hurt, but at that moment you are not thinking about pain,” Jugraj says.
It grew to become a development: Pakistan’s nook, Abbas’ flick, Jugraj’s physique. Pakistan coach Tahir Zaman referred to as it a ‘suicide tactic.’ “At one point in the match, I remember Tahir bhai looking very annoyed and asking Sohail bhai to do something,” Jugraj recollects. Abbas, trying exasperated, turned to Zaman and replied: “kahan feku? Seedha aa raha hai (the place ought to I flick? He is coming straight at me).
This was, nevertheless, the one battle India have been successful – within the first half a minimum of. The plethora of attacking choices that Pakistan had on the sphere, and in addition on the bench, made certain India remained on the backfoot. India’s midfield, which had had an strange match, remained inconspicuous, and Pakistan scored 3 times within the first half hour.
But by half-time, only one aim separated the 2 groups, with Jugraj scoring the 2 objectives to maintain India within the tie. “The speed of counterattacks by both teams was so fast that it did not give us any time to think. So even when we were down by a couple of goals, we never really thought it was game over,” Jugraj says.
Soon after the restart, Abbas did handle to attain, when Jugraj was not on the pitch, to place Pakistan 4-2 forward. If this was a European facet, or Australia for that matter, the technique at 4-2 would have been to guard the lead first. But that’s not how sub-continental sides historically assume and as Pakistan pressed for extra, they grew to become extra susceptible on the again and India clawed their manner again into the sport.
Jugraj was on the coronary heart of all of it. He scored the primary two objectives which stored India within the hunt and had a hand within the subsequent two as effectively. In the fiftieth minute, he fluffed a penalty nook however stored possession by flicking the ball in the direction of Dhillon within the ‘D’. He helped it in the direction of Thakur, who touched it residence from shut vary to chop the deficit. Then, 4 minutes later, Jugraj burst down the precise, opened up the defence with a elegant by way of ball in the direction of Thakur. He swerved slightly and handed it to Prabhjot, who completed the transfer to make it 4-4.
India weren’t completed and it was now the flip of Gagan Ajit to point out off his brilliance along with his inimitable back-hand photographs for objectives. “We had great build-ups from the right and finishing from the left in that match,” Jugraj recollects. Proper ‘taal-mel’, he provides.
India scored 5 objectives in 19 minutes to win that match 7-4. The 70 minutes showcased the depth of expertise that group had. “Ric Charlesworth was the commentator. He said, ‘if I was the coach of this team, we would beat any side in the world’,” Jugraj recollects.
It was additionally a sport that left many strolling wounded. Jugraj, himself, needed to hobble off the pitch to get well from the blows however remained in a state of trance. “I did not have even 0.01 per cent fear,” the policeman says. “You could put the body in line for the country.”
Seventeen years later, and after a highway accident that cruelly reduce quick a promising profession, Jugraj continues to be doing that.