New-look hockey team relishing future challenges

With quite a few seniors calling time on their international careers, a sobering third-place finish at the Asian Champions Trophy last month was a well-timed lesson for the Indian men’s hockey team. Both the players and the management are now hoping to start a hectic 2022 on a winning note when they step out for their opening Pro League games against South Africa and France in Potchefstroom in February and maintain the momentum through the year.

“It is never easy being the coach and have legends leave the group and make decisions that are required. My effort has been to build a deeper squad and give as many opportunities as possible to as many players and that was also part of the strength of this group before Tokyo,” chief coach Graham Reid admitted in an interaction with select media on Friday. “As you lose players, you bring the new ones in as quickly as you can and give them enough experience by the time of bigger events like the Asiad.”

The squad features two debutants and Reid sounded impressed by them. “Jugraj Singh is very quick in drag-flick and if we can get some of his speed and make it a little more consistent it would be exciting. But he is also very versatile in the midfield and defence. Abhishek is an all-out striker who loves to score and even in the camp he was quite prolific, so good to have new influx in the group,” the coach explained.

The recent breakout of Covid cases in the squad during training and the large number of positives in various teams across sports have raised questions on the efficacy of standard bio-bubbles but both the coach and captain Manpreet Singh insist they are prepared.

“This is not new for us. Everyone has been constantly keeping us informed on the rules to follow, there will be almost daily tests so we would want to make sure to follow the protocols as much as possible. That will help us focus more on the games,” Manpreet said.

Staying diligent

“We spend a lot of time trying to make sure the bubble is created right from the moment we leave here and the players know what is required in the bus and the aircraft, everywhere. A lot of it is down to the players and places we are going to and the protocols in place,” said Reid. “I think SA know pretty well about it and we have to trust them and the FIH. It’s an ever-changing situation, we need to stay diligent but also be prepared for things to change very quickly,” Reid added.

The pressure of being among the top teams in the world now sits easy on the team. “For us it is not pressure, it is an achievement. We know that teams will now target us and try to beat us all the time and so we have to be always better than them. But this is what we have been playing for all our lives and now we are enjoying this challenge,” Manpreet said.


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