India’s victory in their first Hockey World Cup match against South Africa – a team that’s ranked 10 places below them – was achieved, expectedly, without much toil. The 5-0 margin, at least partly, conveys that. But it conceals the hosts’ blemishes, especially whilst executing penalty corners.
India converted two of their five chances and both were scored off rebounds. They will take on world No 3 Belgium in a crucial tie – for it might decide the topper of Pool C – on Sunday. The Belgians could make India repent for their errors and misses.
India’s analytical coach Chris Ciriello – one of the world’s best drag-flickers when he’d played for Australia – didn’t buy much into the talk of the hosts struggling for penalty corners.
Here’s what he had to say on penalty corners, India’s performance against South Africa, their chance against Belgium and more:
On penalty corners
We have got a lot of good variations. We can hit the ball hard as well. We got three good flickers. They can score goals. It’s a matter of who fits well against what team. We are working with the strikers, trying to get field goals as well as penalty corners. It’s important for us to focus on the push and the trap. Everyone talks about drag-flick. If you don’t have a quick pusher, it won’t help the drag-flickers.
There’s a lot of conception about [struggling to] finish the PCs. That’s across every team. But with the defensive side, the guys are getting better. They are running with gloves, guys wear knee pads. The shin pads have gotten thicker. The quicker you are though, you get closer to the top of the circle, and you don’t get hit.
On converting just two of five PCs against South Africa
For me, all I wanna see at the end of the game, if we have 20 penalty corners and score zero and we win 1-0, I am still happy. It’s not about one guy taking the PC – as everyone in India thinks. It’s about the guy who earned the PC, the guy that ran back and made the tackle, passed to the other guy, he passes it to the next and then we make the PC. It’s a team game all around, so, to focus one player… yeah. It’s like in soccer if you can take a free-kick, you’re a specialist. It helps you get selected. But someone’s gotta make that play for you to execute that skill.
I’ve told the guys, you put the way you need to put it, hard with good quality. And, if the goalkeeper makes the save or the runner saves it, you’ve done what you gotta do.
On PC variations while defending
You got ‘short-box’, which means you only run half way. There’s a lot of analyses that goes into what guys do. India, as well as anywhere else, they always want us to score a 100%. The problem is if all teams are to score 100% corners, then we need to let 100% corners in. It doesn’t work. Everything’s gotta be realistic. There could be two rushers, one or no rushers at all, depending on who we have. There are over 10 different defensive variations.
On using Harmanpreet Singh for all PCs against South Africa
Harman’s definitely, at the moment, our No 1 flicker. He’s also played at the Olympics. He’s also used to bit more pressure. He played junior World Cup. Amit [Rohidas] was a bit in and out. Varun [Kumar] was a bit in and out as well, but he’s picked up a lot and is offering a lot to the team. We will be mixing it up [in the upcoming games]. We are not gonna make a decision based on one specific thing. We got three good guys. We got more than 10 variations. It’s just a matter of getting enough PCs to be able to execute.
On chances against Belgium
Belgium are very good. They are an experienced team. I think over a 150 caps average per player. But we got guys who got a lot of leg-speed as well.