Despite lack of games against tough teams, Manpreet Singh, Graham Reid confident in Team India's chances in Tokyo
With India reeling with the disastrous Covid second wave, the remaining games for India men's hockey team against Spain, Germany, New Zealand were all canceled, thus leaving the team without any practice matches just before Tokyo 2020.
At the start of 2020, the Indian men's hockey team looked ready for Tokyo Olympics. With Manpreet Singh leading the team, India defeated World Champions Belgium and 2nd-ranked Netherlands in FIH Pro League. Under the guidance of coach Graham Reid, India also defeated Australia on penalty shoot-outs. With a string of positive results in the early goings of Pro League, there was a real buzz around the team.
But the Covid outbreak led to the postponement of the Olympics to 2021, and the Indian players had to spend months in quarantine with very few training sessions. So, has the sudden break affected the momentum of the team in the lead-up to the Olympics?
"We played really well at the start of 2020, our team had a lot of confidence in our abilities. Unfortunately, due to Covid, we were placed under lockdown in Bengaluru (SAI center), and the matches were stopped. It somewhere benefited us because we all were able to train together in Bangalore," captain Manpreet Singh said in a reply to a question posed by Hindustan Times at a virtual press conference organised by Hockey India.
"SAI and HI provided us all the necessary tools to prepare for Tokyo. There was a concern that Tokyo Olympics were postponed but we focused on how we will take it in a positive stride. We thought we would work on our weaknesses, so we worked on that for over a year, and that helped us at the start of this year, even though there were no practice games," he added.
With no practice games, India travelled to Europe for matches against Germany and Great Britain in February-March and returned unbeaten, with two wins and two draws on the tour. Even though Germany and Great Britain did not play several of their first-team players, it was still seen as a successful result for the Indian team.
India also defeated Argentina twice in the FIH Pro League games (one on penalty shootouts) in April this year. With India reeling with the disastrous second wave of Covid, the remaining games for India men's hockey team against Spain, Germany, New Zealand were all canceled, thus leaving the team without any practice matches just before the Tokyo games.
But India captain Manpreet believes that the team will be traveling to Tokyo with a positive mindset.
"Our team went to Germany and England, and in Pro League, we picked up win over Argentina. Our performances are still quite good this year. And we are working on it that when we travel for the Olympics, our performances remain at par with that," Manpreet said.
Now with just a month left to go for the Olympics, India have not played a single game against most of the higher-ranked teams for more than a year. But coach Graham Reid has confidence in the team's daily training environment and he cited two examples to explain his point.
"No one knows the answer, of course until we get there (if internal team matches are enough for Tokyo 2020 preparation). I just give you a couple of examples of why I am quite confident and comfortable with our warm-ups. We have had two very good tours this year, which have come after a period of when we were playing these internal matches, and we have been having our daily training environment," Reid said.
"I talk to guys a lot about the importance and strength of our daily training environment. How we need to play these internal games as close and intense as the Pro League style games. After every game, we discuss if the targets we are looking to hit in terms of intensity are met, and if they are not then we let the boys know," he added.
"Often, we know that from the things that have happened. There was this example of last year. The previous was between 2019 and 2020 when we had not played against too many tough teams and we still managed to play out those Pro League games after again a period of just daily training environments. So what that does, it gives that the team confidence that we do in our daily environment is making us as prepared as be can be, and that is the reality," he signed off.