Right time to revolutionise strategies in penalty corners: Harmanpreet Singh
India men's hockey team captain Harmanpreet Singh reflects on the Hockey WC debacle, the ‘penalty corner conundrum’, and working under new coach Craig Fulton.
As the Indian men’s hockey team enters a new era under recently-appointed head coach Craig Fulton, there is an air of excitement. India began an year with a colossal disappointment at the Hockey World Cup at home, where the side faced an unceremonious departure at the hands of New Zealand; moreover, Harmanpreet Singh, the Indian captain who had been in incredible form leading up to the tournament, endured indifferent outings in the attack as India frustratingly squandered multiple opportunities in the do-or-die match against New Zealand.
However, a terrific comeback at the Pro League in March was the first step towards moving on from the World Cup debacle, and as the Indian team kickstarts its journey under Fulton in the European leg of the Pro League later this month, Hindustan Times caught up with Harmanpreet as he spoke in detail about his World Cup, the new coach, and targets for this year.
How have been the meetings with the new coach (Craig Fulton) so far?
Yes, we've met. We've had 2 sessions with him, and it has been good. There are not many changes in the planning, so it's overall nice. We know how we analyze and his thought process. We will apply our own things and adjust accordingly.
Just how important were the performances in the Pro League after the World Cup debacle?
It was very important. When you keep doing things you have been doing but not get the result, you keep thinking 'what could've been the reason behind the performances'. But making that comeback is very important. I'm very happy that the performances went well.
What do you think went wrong at the World Cup?
As a team, there weren't big mistakes. Whichever matches we played, we created the most opportunities, let it be circle entries or penalty corners. But our execution was not good. Our conversion rate was quite less, and that was the main reason why we could not be successful in the World Cup. Our finishing was poor, and we improved that in the later opportunities at the Pro League.
You talked about execution. Does the added responsibility of captaincy played a role in your individual campaign at the World Cup?
I don't think it's the captaincy pressure. Hockey is a team game, at the end of the day. Captain is just for name. It is the whole team's responsibility. We push each other, but there is no such pressure of captaincy. As a leader, you just have to supervise things off the field and on it. Otherwise, everyone knows their roles.
Penalty corner (PC) conversion was not just the issue with India, but essentially, all sides in the World Cup. As a drag flicker yourself, what do you think is the reason?
In the previous tournaments, PCs were really important factor for wins. Every team has good drag flickers, and they focussed on goals through PC. Of course, PC defence has now improved because, essentially, there were more goals through PC. Of course, there are more equipment now, so as a defender, you're more confident because you know the ball is less likely to hit you and probably injure you.
Nowadays, the goalkeeper is focussing on one side, while the other side is taken care of by rushers. If you beat the first rusher and then flick, you are more likely to score goals. But if both, first and second rusher come together, it becomes more difficult to beat them. So, you really have to strategize it all. The PC defence is indeed getting better.
How do you tackle such a situation, then?
Everyone knows each other's styles. It's the right time to revolutionise strategies in penalty corners. There are newer variations. Every team now knows a lot about the opposition's drag flickers, so they target them particularly on the field. So, you need to bring changes in your own approach. Most teams are focussing on bringing different variations, and so are we.
Graham Reid resigned right after the World Cup. Was it a shock?
It was quite emotional. The coach called us all and told us about his resignation. We've played together for a long time, seen wins and losses together. So, yes, it was difficult.
With a newer coach, there will be transition. But with Asian Games approaching, you have lesser than ideal time to make those adjustments. Does that worry you?
I don't think so. All players know about the formations, whether you're going man-to-man or zonal, or what you've to do when you don't have a ball. Yes, you need some time to adjust to the new tactics, but I believe we will have similar structure to what we had in Pro League (in March). It's good that we have the Pro League games before the Asian Games, so we can experiment. Of course, Pro League is important but Asian Games remain our priority.
Have you discussed on team targets for this year with Craig Fulton?
Whichever match it is, it's important. Our mindset is to continue on our strong performances. We want to finish at the top in the Pro League, we have the Asian Champions Trophy too. We have to go step-by-step and improve as a team. We will try to execute our plans and strategies.