What India needs to focus on going forward in FIH Pro League

Head coach Graham Reid has instilled a fighting mentality in the Indian hockey team but has to iron out a few details.

By Rahul Venkat ·

The Indian hockey men’s team were once again left with a range of emotions in the FIH Pro League, after a win and a loss in their back-to-back clash with a formidable Australian team who are ranked second in the world.

With this latest round of fixtures done, the Indian hockey team have now played six matches in their maiden FIH Pro League campaign, all against opposition ranked above them.

The next assignment for the Indian hockey men’s team will be against Germany after a gap of two months and it will also present them with their first away fixtures. Head coach, Graham Reid needs to fine-tune a few areas still and we have a look at what those might be:

Building momentum early

In both the Indian hockey team’s wins in normal time, they scored an early goal to seize the initial momentum and have looked comfortable thereon. Manpreet Singh acknowledged as much in the post-match press conference on Saturday.

“In the first game (vs Australia), we probably started slow but today we were off the blocks right from the beginning. That helped us grow into the game,” he said.

Manpreet Singh claimed the energetic start was instrumental in the ultimate victory. Photo: Hockey India

While the Indian hockey team have displayed incredible grit even in defeat, an early shot at goal or a string of attacks lifts the team and they will be looking to do that every game.

Forwards Mandeep Singh, Lalit Upadhyay, Gurjant Singh will have to run around a lot in the initial stages and while a goal may not always be forthcoming, it will spur their teammates further back.

As Graham Reid said to the media post game, “We need to be switched on right from the start.”

Defence needs to be consistent

The second encounter against Australia saw some supreme defending by the Indian hockey team with Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra, Amit Rohidas and Surender Kumar all intercepting attacks with some smart positioning and anticipation of passes.

“Purely tactically, the message we sent was that we need to tackle more outside the circle. Not allow them to come in so deep. We gave them too many opportunities yesterday and a repeat had to be avoided,” Graham Reid said after the match.

They also managed to nullify the threat of penalty corners by quickly coming off the goal-posts and denying Jeremy Hayward and others as many as nine times on Saturday.

“We practice that in our sessions and are also secure because we have PR Sreejesh, who we know will always save two or three goals per game,” said Manpreet Singh.

However, this came after two subpar games against Belgium and Australia where they looked out of their depth. In those two losses, they made a combined total of 38 interceptions. On Saturday alone, the Indian hockey defence intercepted 27 attacks.

The goalkeepers have largely been on top so far but they cannot always bail the team out. Graham Reid will demand more performances like that on Saturday from his backline in the coming games and carry that into the 2020 Olympics.

Having a plan B

In the two matches against Australia, the Indian hockey team attacked largely through the flanks and were not able to penetrate the opposition defence as often as they would have liked.

“You don’t measure growth in wins. You measure it in the way you feel. We feel we won, but we feel we are not yet playing at the optimum level,” was how Ramandeep Singh summed up the two games.

Ramandeep Singh was involved in several attacks for the Indian hockey team. Photo: Hockey India

Ramandeep Singh and Raj Kumar Pal were not able to thread balls through to the centre and though the latter scored two goals in the first game, his wing-play did not bear much fruit.

Australia quickly got wind of the home side’s plans and quality teams do have this ability to sniff it out. Indian hockey men’s team coach, Graham Reid will need to involve his central midfielders more to keep surprising their rivals.

Skipper Manpreet Singh is as creative as they come and youngster Hardik Singh showed glimpses of his attacking prowess in the second game.

An injection of pace from the wings is the Indian hockey team’s strength and a majority of plays will be through them but balls through the middle could present a nice change-up if the former does not yield goals.