The practice sessions at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium have been a rather unusual affair. From goal-scoring to defensive tackling; set pieces to counter control, chief coach Terry Walsh has introduced several new techniques that have rejigged the way Indian hockey approached each play. And it seem to have refreshed the mindset of the players, who were often blamed to be one-dimensional and lacking ideas.
The 59-year-old Australian’s novel training methods seem to have renewed hope and raised optimism of an improved performance as the Indian team departs tonight for its final preparatory tour to Holland ahead of next month’s World Cup.
“Many new techniques have been introduced during our practice session which even includes lifting, aerial ball deflection and placing the ball well and effectively,” India captain Sardar Singh said on Monday.
He added: “In the past when we used to tackle a lift we usually used to take the hockey stick back and then swing which used to result in wastage of time. Now we have learnt and put in place this problem where we tackle the lift immediately without taking the swing of the hockey stick which puts us in a better position today.”
The pitch at the stadium has often been divided with roughly five nets spread around the field, rectangular hollow slabs placed randomly and players moving around juggling tennis balls. The purpose is to improve ball control as well as improve player movements. Besides, special emphasis is also laid on several other aspects such as defensive tackling and understanding how to press effectively.
Walsh was happy with the team’s preparation for the exposure tour, where India will play five matches. He said the squad for the World Cup may not be the same as the one selected for the preparatory tour to Europe beginning on Wednesday.
A 21-member Indian team will take part in the five build-up games in The Hague, Netherlands from April 9-19 ahead of the May 31 to June 15 World Cup, to be held in the same Dutch city. “We are trying to get our team to perform as a unit for five matches which will be very important for us.
“While there are opportunities for those players who are going for tour and even plenty of opportunities who are staying back. Guys who are staying back will work on their areas of concern. Pressure will be on both who will be going and who stay back,” Walsh said.
He said the team is trying to get ‘specialisation’ in goalkeeping area. The selectors have recommended a few quality performers from the recently-concluded national championships but he did mention any name in particular.
“Goalkeeping is the area we are working hard on and trying to get specialisation in that area. We are doing our level best. We looked at the recently culminated National Championship final in Lucknow and there were players of good quality. There are some goalkeeper’s who selectors are discussing. Trying to give equal opportunities to everyone and might be so it will not be the same squad for the world cup,” Walsh said.