There is a sense of anticipation as the Indian men's hockey team starts a new chapter under newly appointed head coach Craig Fulton. Harmanpreet Singh, the Indian captain who had been in incredible form leading up to the tournament, endured indifferent outings in the attack as India frustratingly wasted multiple opportunities in the do-or-die match against New Zealand, which marked the start of an extremely disappointing year for India. The team faced an unceremonious exit at the hands of New Zealand during the Hockey World Cup at home.
The Indian team will begin its journey under Fulton in the European leg of the Pro League later this month. Hindustan Times caught up with Harmanpreet as he spoke in detail about his World Cup, the new coach, and targets for this year. A fantastic comeback at the Pro League in March, however, was the first step towards moving on from the World Cup debacle.
How have your first talks with Craig Fulton, the new coach, gone?
We have met, yes. He has seen us twice, and both times have been productive. The planning hasn't changed much, so generally it's good. We are aware of his way of thinking and how we analyse. We will use our own ideas and make the necessary adjustments.
How significant were the Pro League results after the World Cup fiasco?
It was incredibly crucial. You keep asking yourself “what could have been the reason behind the performances” when you keep doing what you have been doing but don't get any results. But pulling off that comeback is crucial. I'm pleased with how wonderfully the performances went.
What do you consider to be the World Cup's problems?
The squad didn't make any significant errors. In every game we played, whether it was a circle entry or a penalty corner, we generated the most chances. However, our execution lacked quality. Our conversion rate was pretty low, which was the primary reason we struggled in the World Cup. Our ending was subpar, but we improved it in subsequent Pro League situations.
You mentioned the execution. Does the additional burden of leadership have any impact on how you personally performed in the World Cup?
It's not the captaincy pressure, in my opinion. In the end, hockey is a game played by teams. Simply put, captain is a name. The whole team is accountable for it. We exert pressure on one another, but no captaincy-related pressure exists. You just need to monitor activities both on and off the pitch as a leader. Everyone else is aware of their responsibilities.
Penalty corner (PC) conversion was a problem for almost all of the World Cup's teams, not only India. What do you suppose the cause is because you yourself are a drag flicker?
PCs were a major component in prior tournament victories. Each squad has strong drag flickers who are computer-focused on their aims. Naturally, PC defence has now improved as a result of the fact that more goals were scored through PC. As a defender, you are undoubtedly more confident due of the increased equipment since you are aware that the ball will be less likely to strike you and likely harm you.
Today, the custodian concentrates on one side while rushers handle the other side. You have a better chance of scoring goals if you outpace the first rusher and then flip. However, it gets harder to defeat them if the first and second rushers combine. So, you must carefully plan everything out. In fact, the PC defence is improving.
Then, how do you handle such a circumstance?
The individual styles of each person are known. The moment is ripe to modernise penalty corner tactics. Newer versions exist. Every team now has a thorough understanding of the drag flickers used by the enemy, so they specifically target them on the pitch. You must thus alter your own strategy. We, like other teams, are concentrating on offering several versions.
Following the World Cup, Graham Reid announced his resignation. Was it unexpected?
It was quite sentimental. The coach informed us about his resignation over the phone. We've been playing together for a while, experiencing both victories and defeats. So, yeah, it was challenging.
There will be change when using a more recent coach. However, you don't have much time left to make such changes since the Asian Games are quickly coming. Do you worry about that?
In my opinion, no. All players are aware of the formations, including man-to-man and zonal, as well as what to do in the absence of the ball. Yes, it takes some time to get used to the new strategies, but I think our organisational structure will be comparable to that of Pro League (in March). We can try new things since the Pro League games are before the Asian Games. Pro League is vital, no doubt, but the Asian Games continue to be our first objective.
Have you spoken to Craig Fulton about the team's goals for this year?
It matters which match it is, of course. Our attitude is to keep up our excellent work. We have the Asian Champions Trophy in addition to wanting to win the Pro League. We must go cautiously and develop together. We'll make an effort to carry out our plans and strategies.