Australia series loss a wake-up call: Hardik Singh | Hockey - Hindustan Times

Australia series loss a wake-up call: Hardik Singh

May 17, 2024 09:26 PM IST

The Indian hockey team is currently in Antwerp where they will resume Pro League duties against the last two Olympic champions – hosts Belgium and Argentina

Coming off a strong home leg in the Pro League, the Indian hockey team was a confident bunch while heading to Perth to face the formidable Aussies in a five-Test series last month. But they were jolted back to reality by a rude awakening as the hosts hammered the visitors 5-0.

Hardik Singh (8) of India reacts during Men's World Cup in 2023(PTI)
Hardik Singh (8) of India reacts during Men's World Cup in 2023(PTI)

“It was a wake-up call for us, for the whole team and staff,” says India vice-captain Hardik Singh. “We thought we were doing well. Even if we don't fulfill our duties, other teams cannot hurt us. It was an illusion which is over. In international hockey, you must be switched on and proactive at all times. We were hurt. Nobody wants to go to another country and lose 0-5 especially when the Olympics are near."

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The series against a team that has medalled in seven of the last eight Olympics was crucial given that Harmanpreet Singh and Co have only a handful of matches left before Paris. Irrespective of how much time they spend in practice, there’s no alternative for real game time.

But instead of building on the strengths that led India to a historic bronze three years ago in Tokyo, the Kookaburras exposed and further exploited the gaps in Craig Fulton’s team for the world to see.

The team’s biggest weakness in Perth was the inability to score field goals as India forwards could only manage a dismal tally of two goals in five matches. Five goals came via drag-flickers.

“To expect that only drag-flickers will score goals... our forwards should work a little more. It is a major focus point and was so during training after the tour. Our execution in the opposition ‘D’ was poor. Our forwards were too nice to them. When they defended with flat sticks, we couldn’t pass over them,” said Hardik, who won the FIH Player of the Year award last year.

“Then in our own D, our man-to-man defensive work wasn’t up to the mark. During our counterattacks when it was 2 against 3 or 4, we should have had the confidence to beat a couple of players and score a goal. Our counterattacks were not good which caused the downfall. We need to execute better.”

In four of the five games, India had a lead over Australia thank to counterattacks but they failed to maintain the advantage.

In their pursuit of choosing the best 16 for Paris, the team management had also selected a mammoth squad of 27 to try out as many players as possible which meant constant chopping and changing, resulting in lack of consistency in all three departments – forward line, midfield and defence. In addition, the squad not just had inexperienced players but also athletes who were returning after a gap of a year which also weakened the outfit.

“When you are playing against a top team, the mindset and strategy of all the 18 should be on the same page. Tactically we need to make sure we are at the same level against Australia, who on the other hand, had all the experience in their squad and knew how to dominate us," said the 25-year-old midfielder.

Crucially, India will face Australia again in their last group match at Paris which could decide whether Fulton’s team qualifies for the knockouts or not. Asked if the clean sweep will affect the team mentally, Hardik replied: “I don't think so. (Mental health expert) Paddy (Upton) has helped us in having a positive mindset. We discussed not getting overexcited or nervous in pressure situations, to just hang in there and trust in ourselves."

Harmanpreet and Co are currently in Antwerp where they will resume Pro League duties against the last two Olympic champions – hosts Belgium and Argentina next week in four games (two each) before heading to London for the closure of the nine-team tournament against hosts Great Britain and reigning world champions Germany.

The outfit has spent the last three weeks spending hours on the pitch and gym under Fulton and scientific advisor Alan Tan as they look to get back to winning ways in the last matches before the Olympics.

“Our forwards were very serious on the training pitch as well as in video analysis sessions. Our preparation has been good. Setbacks happen, it is part of the game. We cannot be stuck in the past. We know it is going to be a very different scenario at the Olympics,” concluded Hardik.

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