The Indian hockey team beat Malaysia 2-1 on Sunday to win the Asia Cup for the third time in history. India remained unbeaten throughout the tournament and, under new coach Sjoerd Marijne, the team looks to be a happy bunch, playing an aggressive brand of hockey.
The tournament was spectacular for India’s penalty-corner specialist Harmanpreet Singh. With seven goals, he was the tournament’s highest goal-scorer.
In an interview with The Field, the 21-year-old talks about his experience during the tournament, scoring against arch-rivals Pakistan and life under Marijne. He also talks about how Jugraj Singh, India’s penalty-corner coach, is helping him improve his skills.
How has life under new coach Sjoerd Marijne been?
Though things have not changed very drastically. One important aspect is that we have an added responsibility to give him a feedback on how we want to play and what we want to work on. He takes players’ feedback and tries to revolve things around how we want to play. It’s player-driven with him guiding us on the aspects that still needs work. The style of hockey has not really changed.
Goals against Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Japan... you have been in top form off late. Have you been working on any specific aspect of your game?
It’s good to end the tournament with seven goals. With Jugraj paaji, now we work on strengthening our basics and then trying different variations. Every day, the injectors, stoppers and flickers arrive one hour early before evening practice and we work on penalty corners. My focus is always to convert the chances we get and give my best.
How has the transition been from PR Sreejesh to Manpreet Singh in captaincy?
Sreejesh too has joined the camp and trains with us, so we haven’t missed him much. Both Manpreet and Sree paaji are good leaders. The best part is that they get along with younger players really well and make sure everyone is comfortable. They bring a lot of energy to the team and it’s not just them. We also have other seniors in the team who mentor the younger players. The good understanding between all of us has helped in bringing good results.
India played with lower-ranked opponents in the Asia Cup. With the World Cup coming up next year, what aspects does the team still have to work on to become world champions?
It’s not that we are higher ranked so the other teams won’t give us a tough fight. Everybody came here with the intent to win. For us, it was important to play with a good structure and this will continue to remain our focus in the upcoming tournaments. We want to play with speed, we want to work on our counter-defence and get better with our PC conversion. I believe there’s always room for improvement and even now when we return to camp on November 5, we will sit down and find out the areas where we need to improve.
India’s penalty-corner conversation rate has not been up to the mark. What is the reason behind it? Even under former coach Roelant Oltmans it was the same.
Whenever we get a chance, our intent is to score. But getting our PCs right is also about team work. Each one of us has to be perfect in our execution and every day we work on getting better and better.
How important was that goal against Pakistan in the Super 4s?
Scoring against Pakistan is always special. We were 1-0 up and to ensure a good start we knew we needed to get a bigger lead. I think to score at that point meant putting more pressure on Pakistan. It was crucial.
India seem to be playing with an aggressive kind of approach and were not afraid to switch between one-touch passing and the long-ball passes as well. Why such a change?
This is how we want to play and we are happy that our coach sides us in this aspect.
How is the spirit in the dressing room now after Oltmans’s sacking? The team seems to be firing on all cylinders.
It’s not that the mood has changed in the dressing room. We have clear goals and we are hungry to achieve it.
India scored 28 goals in seven matches in the Asia Cup. What philosophy is the team following under Marijne?
He likes to see us play fast, with good speed and also getting our basics right. He likes us to play long passes, one-touch hockey, rotating the ball and play vertical. We worked on these things when he took over the camp and his philosophy is that each one of us must trust each other as teammates no matter what. We even had team-building activities before we came here which was all about trusting each other.
Personally for you it has been a great tournament so far. What next?
Personally for me, I want to improve from tournament to tournament, which means I need to work a lot harder. I want to not just be good at PCs but my focus is also on defence. I want to ensure that I am dependable at the back.