Romeo James will not wash his hands off the accident that left Baljit Singh with a damaged eye. The remorseful goalkeeping coach is praying for the India custodian's comeback to alleviate his sense of guilt.
"I can never forget the pain Baljit suffered. Somehow I feel responsible for it. I am continuously praying for him. It will be the happiest day of my life when he makes a comeback to the field," a penitent James said from Pune, where the mishap occurred.
James was giving practice to goalkeepers Baljit, Adrian D'Souza, Bharat Chetri and P R Sreejesh on that fateful day, when a golf ball, used to improve the goalkeepers' reflexes, sneaked through Baljit's visor and hit his eye.
"That was the most horrible day of my life. I was practising with four goalkeepers. We were in fact playing a game and Adrian had won the first game, while Balli was winning the second.
"We thought that he is celebrating his victory as we were some 10 yards away from him. Later we got to know that his eye was severely injured.
"It took 40 minutes to reach the hospital and he was continuously telling me, 'I am ok coachsaab, tussi fikar na karo (you don't worry)'. He himself called his father and told him about the accident," James recalled.
Even though former players criticised the use of a golf ball in practice, James said it is in use for quite a while without any accident.
"We have been using golf ball for the last two years. We have specially designed helmets for that," he said.
Baljit apparently did not wear that special helmet during practice and James disclosed that there was only one such headgear for four goalkeepers.
"Initially this camp was to be held in Bhopal, but plans were changed after the new coach's arrival and it was shifted here. In this process, three helmets were left in Bhopal and we had only one with us," he added.
Baljit's injury not only ruled him out of India's Europe tour but also cast a shadow on his career, with doctors refusing to promise full vision for the custodian.
James has seen Jugraj Singh and Sandeep Singh recover from accidents and return to the field and is praying that Baljit too makes a successful comeback.
"Sandeep and Jugraj made a comeback after worse accidents. Baljit has the will power to make it possible and I am sure he will be back," said the former India goalkeeper, who has played more than 100 internationals.