What we learnt from India’s performances so far at FIH Pro League
The Indian hockey men’s team had a mixed weekend against top-ranked Belgium in the FIH Pro League at the Kalinga Stadium. The side were gritty in both games but ended up winning one and losing the other.
This came on the back of twin victories over the world no. 3 Netherlands two weeks ago and most fans would take a 3-1 win-loss ratio against world-class opposition. The fact that it included a comeback win makes the deal even sweeter.
As with any campaign, there have been a few patterns that have emerged:
Goalkeepers on top of their game
The main talking point in both of India’s matches in the FIH Pro League against Belgium were the numerous saves made by PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak. The former, a 31-year-old veteran and the latter, his 22-year-old understudy coming into his own.
Both of them leapt around the goalposts to deny Belgium, who started wave-after-wave of attacks only to end up scoring four goals across two games. On regular days, those numbers could easily have been 10.
The only blip, so to speak for the Indian custodians, was in the second match against the Netherlands, where they conceded three goals but were bailed out by the forwards then.
The form of the goalkeepers bodes well going into the 2020 Olympics, especially with the defence proving to be a bit rusty this year.
Rupinder Pal Singh is a sure starter
The Indian hockey team received some good news at the turn of the year with the return from injury of defender Rupinder Pal Singh. The veteran is a vital cog of the line-up and these two games against Belgium showed exactly why.
Head coach Graham Reid, in a bid to rotate his squad and give everyone an opportunity in the build-up to the 2020 Olympics, left Rupinder Pal Singh out of the starting XI in the first game and out of the matchday squad altogether in the second.
Vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh and Birendra Lakra were entrusted with manning the defence but neither of them looked sure-footed. The backline needs the ability to weather the storm that Rupinder Pal Singh brings to the table and it rubs off on whoever is accompanying him.
However, the main reason why the Indian hockey team needs the 30-year-old to be a starter is the fact that he is the best drag-flicker in the team. Harmanpreet Singh endured a poor game in general and is no doubt better than his performances in the last two games but he is not adept at penalty corners and neither is Amit Rohidas, the other man who was handed the task.
Inconsistent going forward
Since the arrival of Graham Reid in April last year, there has been a marked shift in the Indian hockey men’s team mindset. The side attacks a lot more and that has yielded 12 goals in four matches at the FIH Pro League so far.
While that attacking strategy helped the Indian hockey team claw back against the Netherlands, the games against Belgium also showed that they need to be more clinical in finishing their chances. Mandeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Vivek Prasad and Lalit Upadhyay were all guilty of missing simple chances at different junctures.
Another slight area of concern is the midfield where skipper Manpreet Singh was handling things all on his own. He needs his wingers to create more chances and better support from the central midfielders to pass the ball around with purpose to unlock well-organised defences.