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FIH Pro League: Graham Reid’s India aim to hit the ground running against Spain

Men, women teams to play doubleheaders this weekend against Spain.

Graham Reid, Graham Reid india, India Graham Reid, sports news, indian expressIndia captain Manpreet Singh during training ahead of the Pro League match against Spain. (Hockey India)

When he was asked about the reason for India’s improvement in the recent years – from losing in the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup to finishing on the podium in Tokyo – Max Caldas had a one-word answer: “Graham.”

The Spain coach was talking about Graham Reid, who, soon after the World Cup, quit as Caldas’s assistant at the Netherlands and took over India.

Caldas’s glowing remarks come at a time when there have been slight speculations over Reid’s future with the Indian team. After India were unable to reach the final of the Asian Champions Trophy in December and a shock defeat to France earlier this month, former Hockey India chief and current Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra had demanded an explanation for the ‘unacceptable’ performances.

(Twitter)

India’s hockey administrators have, in the past, been notoriously impatient with coaches for the team’s below-expectation performances. So, Batra’s comments immediately sparked rumors about Reid’s role within the hockey world. For now, though, those rumours have been laid to rest. Earlier this week, Reid met Batra and the two had ‘detailed discussions about the recent performances and planned ahead for the Asian Games, where an Olympic berth is at stake.

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It’s in this backdrop that Caldas’s Spain have come calling for Reid’s India. The two teams will play each other twice over the weekend as India’s home leg of the FIH Pro League kicks off. Over the coming weekends, India will take on Germany, Argentina and England at Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium. If the Olympic bronze medalists were operating on first gear post-Tokyo, then they’ll have to rapidly up the tempo against some of world hockey’s top teams.

Some of India’s results – the defeat to Japan in the Asian Champions Trophy semifinals and then to France in the Pro League – have come as a surprise. “You can say they were a wake-up call,” captain Manpreet Singh said. “You can’t underestimate any team.”

At the same time, it’s important to put them into perspective. At the Asian Champions Trophy, Reid chose to give game time to players who hadn’t played a match in the last two years. Consequently, half of the players from the Olympics squad had been rested. Then, in the first away leg of the Pro League in South Africa earlier this month, where India played France apart from the host nation, the coach gave debuts to two players although the core of the team had returned.

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More than the defeats, it’ll be the mistakes that led to them that will concern the team. In both those games, India started poorly and then as they played catch-up, the players became restless and frustrated, thus lacking the finesse despite creating chances.

Vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh has urged the players to remain ‘switched on’ from the opening minute against Spain. One assumes that will be critical, given that the Europeans, too, have been slow starters in their matches.

Like India, Spain have had mixed performances in their first two matches of the Pro League season. In the opening game against England, they never got going and succumbed to an embarrassing 6-1 defeat. The next day, they played a much more disciplined and attacking game but England snuck in a late goal to win the match 3-2.

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Caldas’s teams are known to play in a structured manner, giving very little space to their opponents. India can expect Spain to sit back and attack on the counter, rather than take the initiative. It’s the kind of game India haven’t been comfortable playing. It’ll be a test of patience, something India have lacked in the recent matches.

Women to make home debut

Like the men, India’s women’s team, too, comes into the doubleheader against Spain on the back of some mixed results. The Janneke Schopman-coached team suffered a shock defeat to South Korea in the semifinals of the Asia Cup a month ago, but recovered from that to post two commanding wins over China in the Pro League.

The women’s team is making its Pro League debut this season and will play at home for the first time since 2019, when they competed in the Olympic qualifiers. The matches against Spain will be a chance for India to gauge their preparations for the World Cup, which will be held in July.

With skipper Rani Rampal still recovering from an injury, goalkeeper Savita Punia will continue to lead the team for this weekend’s games, which will see forward Sangita Kumari make her international debut.

India vs Spain: Women: 5pm, Men: 7.30pm; Live on Star Sports Network.

First published on: 25-02-2022 at 22:39 IST
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