The Indian men’s hockey team is preparing for bigger battles

Shortly after the Indian bronze medal in Tokyo, coach Graham Reid was optimistic about where he could take the men’s national team. Reid’s men lifted Indian colors to the Olympic hockey podium for the first time in 41 years, reviving the romance for this game in the country.

“We haven’t seen the best of this team yet,” the Australian said as he quickly began drawing plans to build on success in Tokyo.

The next Olympic cycle is underway and all eyes will be on what the senior national team can achieve in the next 12 months which include the Asian Games and the domestic World Cup.

READ: Haryana was crowned champion of the senior hockey team after 11 years

While Rupinder Pal Singh, Birendra Lakra and SV Sunil have announced their retirement after the Olympics, Reid has kept the core of the Olympic team intact with his choice pointing to the future. So far, he has invited 32 players for the Asian Champions Trophy and the FIH Pro League, and 16 of the 19 who traveled to Tokyo have played a lot.

The midfield has remained pretty much the same with new inclusions in attack and defense. Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas, Varun Kumar and Surender Kumar continue to form the first choice defense, with support from Jugraj Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh, Mandeep Mor, Dipsan Tirkey and Nilam Sanjeep. New faces Abhishek, Shilanand Lakra and Sukhjeet Singh are under attack.

Good start: Amit Rohidas took over the captain’s armband from Manpreet Singh and took India to the top of the Pro League standings. – BISWARANJAN ROUT

Reid also failed to integrate many of the junior pool names from the team’s fourth place finish at the Junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar, late last year. Only two players have won out of which, Vivek Sagar Prasad, has been playing for the senior team since 2018.

The most significant change was the removal of the captain’s armband to inspirational midfielder Manpreet Singh, who had an inconsistent ride and handed it over to Rohidas. Interestingly, there was no explanation from the coach about it.

Beginners and marginal players were given opportunities, but with mixed results. The strong Indian national team fell behind against South Korea and Japan in the Champions Trophy, where they finished in third place. In the Pro League, India suffered defeats from France (away), Spain (home) and Argentina (penalty shootout), but is at the top of the league table, at the end of the home game, after playing several games.

READ: Graham Reid: We have a habit of not finishing games when we have control

Indian hockey legends Vasudevan Baskaran and MM Somaya do not want to look at the scoreboard as a true indicator of how this group is forming. They want the team to focus strongly on the Asian Games, where a gold medal can secure qualifications for the Paris Olympics.

Baskaran, who led India to Olympic gold in 1980, believes: “This team will hold out until the Asian Games and is definitely not a national team at the 2024 Olympics. I think he could start kicking out some older players after the Asian Games. It won’t make much of a difference at the Asian Games [Olympic] qualification in question. ”

It also doesn’t envision a surprising inclusion from the Commonwealth Games (CWG), where India is sending an ‘A’ team to compete, including Rupinder, Birender and Sunil, who all overturned their retirement decisions last month.

“One good thing is Sardar Singh coaching the team. I’m not sure if the team can perform in the medal tier at the CWG. I don’t think the team has the necessary punch. Those who retired, [the decision] has been accepted and accepted in a good way. Coming back to play on the development team, I’m not sure how motivated they will be. My serious idea is that India is not craving a medal at the CWG, and they are only there to participate. If it was up to me, I would send more players from the first team to the CWG, because they can play better games than at the Asian Games. Reid already has a cream of 25 players, I don’t think he will look for players from the CWG group “, says Baškaran.

Difficult task: If India, which last won gold at the 2014 Asiad, wants to take first place, coach Graham Reid will have to come up with the best version of this team that is still ongoing. – BISWARANJAN ROUT

Analyzing the personnel changes in the last six months, Somaya, Baškaran’s teammate and three-time Olympian, says: “Some of the new players who have entered have played well. I am not yet convinced of the defense, including the goalkeepers. In defense, except for the old guard, like Harmanpreet [Singh], the new guys don’t look ready. The line forward was impressive, Sukhjeet, Shilanand and Abhishek, after getting several rounds of exposure, are pretty well formed. Players experienced in defense did not live up to the task. We need more exposure in deep defense and the goalkeeper, and that is an area of ​​concern. ”

In the Pro League, while India scored 54 goals, they let out 30, against teams rebuilding the frame. Of the 54, 24 are goals from a game where younger talents Abhishek, Sukhjeet and Shilanand contributed their talents and technical abilities. But after scoring 16 goals from the game in the first four games against France and South Africa, it’s hard to come up with an opening against a defense that has stayed deep in the counterattack approach.

Harmanpreet has taken the lead in the flicker and is the leading scorer in the Pro League which is underway with 16 strokes and has taken 11 from the penalty spot. But Indian penalty corner routines often lacked diversity. “There should be more than one guy for penalty corners. Jugraj (Singh) and Varun (Kumar) perform in patches and are not yet as strong as number two as the drag-flicker that the previous team had. The previous team had three strong candidates for those scenarios, ”says Somaya.

During the Pro League India was to blame for conceding soft goals, much to Reid’s chagrin. It was hard to gain control in matches against France, Spain, Argentina and England, but she ended up strong in the last home match against an inexperienced German team.

Somaya emphasizes the need to drop into the central midfield and a strong defensive unit.

“In the midfield, Hardik’s midfielders [Singh] and Manpreet or Vivek Prasad, if heavily charged by the opponent, there is no cunning in the rest of the midfield to create an opening or pass for the front line. We need to figure out a way around this, maybe a few wing halves, who can receive the ball from deep defense and have the cunning and vision to create.

“Defense is not a man’s fighting skill. It’s teamwork. It took the previous team six to seven years to create the chemistry he had. Understanding in defense should come in an impulsive way. The team should work in unison. If they can clog those areas, they can be more effective. Some of the goals we conceded, especially from the penalty spot, were soft goals, ”said the three-time Olympian.

India have four matches left in the home of the Olympic champion of Belgium and the fourth-placed Netherlands, and these matches could prove to be the biggest test in the Pro League, before the Asian Games.

India sparked during the attack, but the performances were far from complete. While India will enter the Asian Games, the next big task on the horizon, as a favorite, it will not be an easy exit with Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Pakistan posing a strong threat.

If India, which last won gold at Asiad in 2014, wants to take first place, Reid will have to come up with the best version of this side that is still ongoing.

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