In the build-up to the 2023 FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup, there’s been a lot of attention on India captain Harmanpreet Singh. Rooted in the praise he’s been receiving, is the 26-year-old’s ability to time and again bail his team out of trouble through his powerful and accurate drag-flicks. It’s a talent has helped the Indian defender and penalty corner specialist win the FIH Men’s World Player of the Year award twice in a row now.

But ask Harmanpreet about his PC conversions, and he’s the first to tell you that he couldn’t have done it alone.

“Only after the pusher and the stopper do their job can I flick it. It is a collective effort,” Harmanpreet, who has scored 126 goals for the national team at the time of writing, told recently.

In that simple statement though, the captain put the spotlight on two positions that have largely been underrated – the pusher (or injector) and stopper – in a penalty corner routine. The goalscorer is always the star, but among the players themselves – like Harmanpreet suggested – they know that the pusher and stopper provide a great service in the penalty corner routine.

“It’s extremely unfair,” said Bram Lomans, double Olympic gold medallist with the Netherlands in 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney, to when asked about the two positions not being given a fair share of the spotlight. Lomans, a drag-flicker during his playing days, was in India in December 2022, helping the team Indian team fine-tune their penalty corner routines.

“In my teams, the pusher and the trapper always get a lot of ‘thank yous’ because it’s extremely important. If it goes well, then it makes life so much easier for us,” he added.

Former India captain VR Raghunath asserted that within the team, the drag-flickers would go out of their way to make sure the pushers and stoppers were treated well.

“Whenever we used to get player of the match or highest goal scorer awards, we’d always treat the pushers and stoppers as well. We’d always do it,” Raghunath, who scored 132 goals for the national team over 228 matches, said over the phone.

“The flickers are always in the spotlight, but the pushers and stoppers should always be credited, but we take care of them. Sometimes we’d take them out for dinner. We had that bonding with the teammates. It was an important thing to have.”

There are three essential pieces that go into an attacking penalty corner routine. The drag-flick – the third in the sequence – is the one that often eventually results in a goal, and because of that, they are naturally in the limelight. The first two pieces though are equally, or arguably more, important.

“Pushers and stoppers will do 80 percent of the work in a penalty corner, our job is to just finish off the move,” Raghunath added.

The tasks of the first two pieces may seem rather straight-forward, yet there is a whole lot that goes into it.

“These are specialised skills, extremely hard skills to master,” added former India captain Viren Rasquinha.“Not everybody can do it and it takes a lot of time and practice to perfect it.”

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The Pusher

The pusher or injector is the first step in the penalty corner routine. From the attacker’s mark on the right side of the goal, the injector has to ensure one foot is entirely behind the baseline and one inside when the ball is pushed towards the edge of the circle from where the drag-flick takes place. It may look like a simple push from the outside, but there’s a specific technique, and various calculations that have to be made.

“In the last 10 minutes of each half, the turf gets a bit dry,” explained former India coach Clarence Lobo to “When it’s dry then the ball can jump off the surface and bounce very easily and that makes it difficult for the stopper. If the pitch is wet then the ball hugs the carpet more.”

“If you’re pushing when the pitch is dry, your stick needs to have a longer connection with the ball. You have to drag it a bit longer before it leaves the stick to go to the stopper. The follow-through becomes longer and that’s very important.”

Importantly, the push needs to reach the stopper as quickly as possible to allow the drag-flicker more time to adjust. The faster the ball is in position, the further away the defensive first-rusher is, giving the flicker a bigger window to get the ball away at goal without the defender getting a block.

“Everything is on timing. If it’s off by just a 100th of a second, the drag-flicker has to adjust the entire body motion which is very difficult to do midway through the run-up,” said Rasquinha, who was an occasional stopper during his playing days.

“That’s why the speed, and getting the push with as less bounce as possible is important so that the stopper can bring it under control quickly.”

And then there is the accuracy. The push needs to come right at the stopper, any deviation and the entire battery or castle (stopper and drag-flicker) have to change position which gives defenders more time to close gaps.

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The Stopper

The second piece in the PC routine is the stopper. The player in this position is usually crouched by the shooting circle holding the middle of the stick. It’s this player’s job to read the pace and bounce – if any – of the push that comes in and bring the ball to a standstill just outside the shooting circle before the flicker takes over. Failure to control here, and the chance to unleash a proper flick is often lost.

Indian players though have a specific technique in which they make the stop.

“Instead of just trapping it, we’re catching it and make a little bit of a roof above the ball and then the ball’s momentum is absorbed in the stick and it is dead. But that’s quite difficult, so it’s extremely important,” Dutchman Lomans said.

Clarence Lobo explained further. “You reach out with your arms to bring the ball into contact with the stick and then pull it back. You’re basically slowing it down to the point that it comes to a stand-still.

“And they do it so quickly that sometimes you cannot see it. It has to become a part of the muscle memory, and that only comes when you practice it rigorously, everyday.”

Team within the team

To execute the perfect penalty corner routine, there needs to be a great degree of coordination between the three parts. It all comes with repetition and a healthy rapport between the players. Then there’s also their own secret signs.

Raghunath recalled forming a special coded language with the pushers during his playing days.

“The pusher always makes a signal about when he’s going to make the push, so we are ready and the opponent does not know that. It’s like the three of us have our own kind of sign-language that we work on. We have a lot of codewords with pushers so that nobody else understands. We use this according to the opponent’s rushers as well,” he said.

Rasquinha meanwhile described the rapport the legendary Sohail Abbas had with his teammates. Abbas, considered one of the greatest drag-flickers the sport has ever seen, scored 348 goals for Pakistan – most through penalty corners.

“Mohammad Nadeem, Ghazanfar Ali, Rehan Butt used to push. And Waseem Ahmad was the best stopper in the world, he’d almost never miss,” he said.

“The pushers were so good that Waseem would get the ball just where he wanted it. They’d set it up so well for Sohail that he’d get a split-second more. He was already so good at the drag-flick, the setup made him even more dangerous.”

Even in variations, where instead of going for a shot at goal, the drag-flicker makes a pass for a teammate to deflect home, there is a great deal of work that is done by the pusher and stopper. Essentially, in this case, the move is slowed down so that the first rusher gets closer to the edge of the circle unlike a proper drag flick routine and can hence be taken out of the equation when the pass is made.

“The push is generally slower so you tempt the first rusher,” Lobo added. “Either that, or the stopper holds onto the ball slightly longer.”


All three positions are specialists and have their own skill-sets that require training from a young age.

As Rasquinha put it, it’s not exactly ‘rocket science,’ but takes a great deal of dedication and repetition.

“If we had to report at 4 pm for training, everyone involved in the PC routine had to be there at 3 pm to work on that,” said Raghunath.

“We’d do this five times a week. And then we join the main session. Once you finish your drag-flicking, attacking and defending session, then we have the regular session. It’s like we’re doing 150 percent training, the rest are doing 100 percent.”

It’s through that training that the moves get built into the muscle memory. And these skills are also what influences team selection.

“In an 18-member team, there are [typically] three specialised guys who make the push. It’s a specific skill, an extremely hard skill to master. And there are just three who are stoppers. These are specialised skills,” Rasquinha added.

“These positions are very understated, underestimated, undervalued.”

With reporting inputs from Dilip Unnikrishnan