With a packed schedule this year, the Indian hockey team is expected to be on the touring bus for better part of the year. The year started on a positive note for the Indian team as they finished sixth in the World league Finals last week with a win over Olympic champion Germany in the classification matches.
In a chat with The Indian Express, skipper Sardar Singh, who will also lead Delhi Waveriders in the second edition of the Hockey India League, spoke about the emergence of youngsters like Mandeep Singh and what India need to do to better their record this year. Excerpts:
India finished sixth in World league Finals last week. How do you rate that performance?
Overall it was satisfying. But it also made us realise that we still have to do a lot in terms of fitness and stamina. Like, we were leading by 2-0 against Australia but failed to use that advantage. We failed similarly against Germany in the league stage. But we did put up a fight so that was nice. One of the positives was the performance of Mandeep Singh. He scored goals for us and he is very strong inside the D.
Teams like New Zealand and Belgium have performed well in recent times. What is the reason for their success and can we use their methods to better our game?
Their success is that their coaching structure and the core of the team has not changed in the two years. And also they keep playing against top teams like Germany, Holland and Spain regularly. Now, this year is very important for us as we have World Cup, Commonwealth games and Asian Games. And we will be playing in Europe later this year. So we gave Sultan Azlan Shah Cup a miss as we wanted to train in Europe and understand the conditions better.
The team has put faith in two drag-flickers — Rupinder Pal Singh and V Raghunath — in the last one year. As a skipper, are you happy with their performances?
Yes, I am. They have the confidence and fitness levels to perform at the world level. Rupinder’s winning goal against Olympic champion Germany in the 5-4 win was commendable. But like I said we have a long way to go. Coach Terry Walsh has been concentrating hard on the fitness levels of the players and you will see a lot of changes in the coming months.
Now you have to quickly switch focus to Hockey India League. Last year, Delhi Waveriders had a good run in the tournament before losing the final to eventual winners Ranchi Rhinos. What do you think of your team’s chances in season two?
We did well despite the fact that we got very little time to gel as a team. But this time we are more confident because we have almost the same side and the players know their roles. Also, the format means that we have to play according to the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and the addition of some new players will help our cause.
Was there any special focus while preparing for this season?
This year, we were keen to strengthen our defence. That’s why we added defenders Australian Treston White and New Zealand’s Steven Edwards. Both our goal-keepers Nicolas Jacobi and Pirmin Blaak have also played in leagues across Europe and their experience will come handy in the league.