India men’s hockey team beats Germany 6-1 in first match for over a year
After being confined to the Bengaluru SAI centre for almost a year due to Covid-19 restrictions, India have resumed their proper build-up for the Tokyo Olympics.
More than anything else, Graham Reid, head coach of the Indian men’s hockey team, was eager to see his players get out on the field and enjoy doing what they love—playing competitive hockey.
Going by the scoreline, it seemed that was the case. Playing their first international match in more than a year, India defeated Germany 6-1 in Krefeld, Germany, in the opening encounter of the four-match Europe tour on Sunday.
Five Indian players scored—Nilakanta Sharma (13th minute), Vivek Sagar Prasad (27th, 28th), Lalit Upadhyay (41st), Akashdeep Singh (42nd) and Harmanpreet Singh (47th)—while goalkeeper and tour captain PR Sreejesh saved a few penalty corners to make it a happy return to action for the world No.4 team.
“It was absolutely thrilling to play after so long and the coach’s advice to us was ‘go and enjoy the game’, and so we did,” Sreejesh was quoted as saying in a Hockey India release.
It was India’s first taste of competitive hockey since February 22, 2020, when they played Australia in the Pro League in Bhubaneswar. Since then the pandemic-enforced lockdown forced the players and coaching staff to spend most of the year in Bengaluru’s Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre with national camps and intra-squad matches the only way to keep in touch with hockey.
“The boys are very excited about being back on tour. There’s a familiarity about it but also it’s so new after not having done it for 12 months. Just to be in a different country, a different place is refreshing, really,” Reid said from Krefeld.
With a little over five months to go for the Tokyo Olympics, time and competitive matches are of essence for the Australian coach to get the team up to shape for the postponed Games. Top sides like world champions Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Great Britain have got a head start, having resumed their Pro League matches since last September. India will have to wait till April to play in the Pro League. Reason why Reid looks at these four matches as more than just a welcome return to the game for his team.
“We’ll be using it to gauge where we’re at. The matches are crucial because what it does is give us feedback of where we are at the moment and what we need to do between now and the Olympics. Normally, during competition you get that feedback on a more regular basis so you can make corrections as you go; whereas we’ve had to do that from a very subjective point of view within Bengaluru. It’s been an interesting process,” Reid said.
From March to early June, players were not allowed outdoor training despite being within the SAI premises. The homesick players were sent home and a few, including captain Manpreet Singh, tested positive for the virus on returning for the camp in August. Wading through various obstacles, Reid worked towards fine-tuning skills at an individual and group level. The Olympic silver-winning Australian though knows the hours spent on the training field at the camp can’t match the minutes of a competitive outing.
“In the earlier days of lockdown, we were very much focused on individual skill, but since we’ve come back in the new year we’ve been focusing on our group exercises and tactical play—attacking and defensive transition, what we do when we lose the ball, what we do when we win the ball and such aspects.
“But we can talk a lot about our internal games, which is what we’ve been able to do for the last 12 months. But the feedback loop, if you like, of competition is what these four matches against world-class teams will provide. You can then start making more improvements more quickly,” Reid said.
India will play their second match against Germany on Tuesday before moving to Antwerp, Belgium, to take on Great Britain on March 6 and 8.