'No team is going to make it easy just because we are Olympic medallists' | Hockey - Hindustan Times

'No team is going to make it easy just because we are Olympic medallists'

Jul 20, 2022 10:36 PM IST

Manpreet discusses India’s preparation, chances and opposition in Birmingham, how the Pro League has benefitted the team and playing with the tag of Olympic medallists

A year back Manpreet Singh was at the helm of the Indian men’s hockey team, steering them to an historic podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics, a bronze that was worth its weight in gold. But the India skipper has moved on as “keeping the crown on the head will not” let India move forward.

Manpreet Singh will be aiming for glory in Birmingham.(Twitter/@manpreetpawar07) PREMIUM
Manpreet Singh will be aiming for glory in Birmingham.(Twitter/@manpreetpawar07)

After guiding India to a creditable third place finish in the Pro League, the 30-year-old Khel Ratna has now set his sights on the Commonwealth Games (CWG), where India will vie to win gold for the first time.

Also Read | Savita Punia-led Indian women's hockey team departs for Commonwealth Games 2022

Manpreet, who will play his 300th international in India’s opener against Ghana on July 31, discusses India’s preparation, chances and opposition in Birmingham, how the Pro League has benefitted the team and playing with the tag of Olympic medallists. Excerpts:

How did India train differently for CWG?

We have been training according to matches at CWG. There we’ll play two matches, have a rest day and then again play two matches. That way our coaches have planned two days of high intensity training both in morning and evening, a rest day, then two days of high-intensity training to get our bodies accustomed to the schedule. Like it was very hot at the Tokyo Olympics for which we trained and played matches in the afternoon (in India) so that our bodies get used to the high temperatures.

What was the focus during the high-intensity training?

Speed; to get accustomed to the high-speed game. Saans phulni chahie (Should be out of breath). Train at match intensity level so that when we play games our bodies are already at that level. We are given the exact amount of load that we’d get in a match.

Including India, there are four top-10 teams in CWG…

England, Australia, New Zealand—all are strong teams. In major events, you can never underestimate any team. At the Olympics, you saw South Africa beat Germany. Our mindset should be professional and should treat every team equally. Never think poorly of any team as they can also surprise and hurt us. Our aim will be to use our basic skills, follow our game plan and win.

Will England be our main challenge in the pool stages?

They have some very good and skilful players. Their defenders have a habit of cutting in inside, they carry the ball more than others and can also play give-and-go hockey for which we’ll need to do man-to-man marking. They also use 3D skills well so we’ll have to tackle them well and see how we can hurt them, what kind of penalty corners (PC) we can set up against them. We are working on the details and how to apply them in the match.

Australia have won gold all six times hockey has been held at CWG but they’ve gone a year without playing big events. Is this India’s best chance?

Australia is the best team. They are world No 1. We can’t underestimate them just because they haven’t played a tournament for a year. But the skills and pace are still the same right? They played two bilateral series against New Zealand and Malaysia. Our main aim will be not to give them easy opportunities. They have skilful players that we have to defend very well against and play as a pack. Whenever we enter their circle, we must create opportunities. When you play against good teams, you get fewer opportunities. We are specially working on this.

How did Pro League help?

Two things—you got good opportunities of playing against top teams and at the same time you could give chances to players who wanted to show how capable they are. Abhishek showed his game which is why he got into the India squad for CWG. Lot of players were given a platform to show their skills. Simultaneously, they played against the best teams they learned a lot and improved as a player. In matches against Netherlands and Belgium, we enjoyed a lot because the intensity and quality were very high. Like us, they had brought their best team and both wanted to win.

Does the process of building a team for the 2023 World Cup start here?

Yes. If someone performs well here, he will be in good stead for the future. From that perspective, it’s very important. It is a major event and we have to do well here as we won’t have other big tournaments after this (and before the World Cup). The best from CWG and (subsequent) Pro League will be analysed to form the World Cup team. This entire period will be important for all players to show what they can do.

Do you feel pressure going into tournaments after Tokyo as all teams want to beat Olympic medallists?

That is the past now. If we still carry that crown on our heads, we will not be able to perform. If we have to move forward, we have to leave it behind and focus on whatever comes ahead. No team is going to make it easy just because we are Olympic medallists. We have to earn victories. After Tokyo 2020, all teams want to beat India because we are Olympic medallists. They will work harder, and make more plans on how to hurt us. We have to keep ourselves ready accordingly. We have to be one step ahead of them. If we are to win a medal at the next Olympics, we have to work a step harder than others.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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