FIH Olympic Qualifiers: Harmanpreet Singh and the subtle art of dragflicking
The recent tour to Belgium, in which India played three games against the hosts, followed by two games against Spain, showcased signs of improvement in the department.Updated: Nov 01, 2019, 10:50 IST
After the FIH Series finals in Bhubaneswar in June this year, it became eminent that penalty corners remains one area of concern for India men’s hockey team, with Tokyo Olympics 2020 in mind. In the first three games of the tour, India’s conversion rate was poor, with just 10 goals in 26 attempts. The recent tour to Belgium, in which India played three games against the hosts, followed by two games against Spain, showcased signs of improvement in the department. Dragflicker Harmanpreet Singh led the way, scoring five goals from PCs, helping India maintain a 100 per cent record in the overseas tour.
Speaking to Hindustan Times on the sidelines of Olympic Qualifiers against Russia in Bhubaneswar, Harmanpreet gave an insight into how the team is working behind the scenes to improve their success rate in PCs.
“Before every match, we talk about penalty corners. We discuss our opponents - we take a look at their running patterns and the goalkeeper’s positionings - their plus points and weaknesses, and we plan accordingly. The forward players inform us where we need to aim our target. If a goalkeeper is tilted towards left, we look to target him on the right. We also sit together and watch videos so we know where we can lead a rally, where we can score, where is the goalkeeper’s weak areas... we keep all this in mind,” he said.
In modern-day hockey, as teams lay down emphasis on PCs in the training sessions, the job of a dragflicker has become vital for providing goal-scoring opportunities. Apart from Harman, India have Amit Rohidas, Varun Kumar and Rupinder Pal Singh in that role. India’s analytical coach Chris Ciriello, who was one of the best dragflickers for Australia during his playing days, talks about the techniques required to master the art.
“In terms of techniques, almost 66 per cent is all about getting the ball out straight, which is the pushout, like an injection from the corner. Then, one has to trap the ball clean, making sure that the dragflicker - be it Harman, Bobby, Amit or Varun - have the best chance of putting the ball where they need to put the ball,” he says.
“When I was teaching at our academy in Australia, I broke down the technique into 36 different points between the movement in, the pick-up and the execution. There are different deceptions, different angles, and a lot of other variations. When you see someone flicking around, you understand that it is years and years of development and understanding of how to execute these skills. One also needs to be evolving, once you understand what it is required to be done - you need to be able to change what it is you do,” he further added.
A lot of physical aspects also go into being a skilled dragflicker. A player needs to exert power while sliding the hockey stick from backwards and pushing it into the ball to give it a slight upward elevation.
“It requires a tremendous amount of physical strength. The ball speed matters a lot. Sometimes, the goal goes through just because of the speed of the ball, even if the angle goes wrong. It depends a lot on hardwork that you are doing, and how much are you practicing the skill. Gym sessions are equally important - there are specific exercises which are helpful for a dragflicker,” Harmanpreet explains.
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Ciriello adds: “Fitness is important. There are a lot of stress areas in feet, knees, shins, hips, back that takes its toll. There are specific exercises and specific styles required... there is a lot more to it than people think.”
With Harman and co. continuing to work on the dragflicking skills, India appear to be moving towards the right path in terms of improving their goal-scoring prowess from the corners. Even Ciriello was impressed with Harman’s performance in Belgium.
“Harman did really well on the dragflicks - but someone had to earn the corner, and push it out. He knows his job is to execute which he did really well. There is an understanding in him that if he scores goals from PCs, it goes a long way to support the team,” he said.