Manpreet: ‘Our best comes out when we play against Pakistan’

One of India’s biggest problems have been penalty corner conversion, but the skipper feels that with four specialist drag flickers, including V.R. Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh, the team will put up an improved show.

Manpreet Singh wants to take one game at a time, not thinking about finals, or podium finish, right at the onset. (File Photo)   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Swift dribbles have been the Indian hockey team’s calling card, since time immemorial. However, new national coach, Sjoerd Marijne, wants his men to not hold onto the ball for too long in a bid to attack with more gusto, says skipper Manpreet Singh.

“Now, the drill is not to hold the ball for long, attack fast, try to enter the striking circle, and take as many shots as possible. Our focus is to attack more, and we are more aggressive now,” skipper Manpreet said, during an interaction before the hockey squad left for Gold Coast.

One of India’s biggest problems have been penalty corner conversion, but the skipper feels that with four specialist drag flickers, including V.R. Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh, the team will put up an improved show.

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“Regarding penalty corner conversions, we have four specialists (drag flickers) in the team, and we should be able to convert as many penalty corners as possible. I think we have improved on that front also,” he said.

India has returned with silver medals during the last two editions of Commonwealth Games, in New Delhi and Glasgow, respectively. India has been placed in Pool B, along with England, Malaysia, Pakistan and Wales.

It will begin its campaign against Pakistan, at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre, on April 7, and the skipper knows the importance of facing the arch-rivals.

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“Everybody knows that our best comes out when we play against Pakistan. However, having said that, we should not go into the match emotionally-charged. We should take it as just a game, which we need to win. We need to remain physically and mentally strong, throughout the tournament,” Manpreet said.

“An opening match of any tournament is very crucial, and we would go for a win against Pakistan. A win in the opening match should boost our confidence, going ahead in the Games,” he added.

India has never won a gold in the Commonwealth Games, and last time also, it lost to Australia 0-4 in the summit clash. Australia has won the gold medal in all the five editions, since the sport’s introduction in the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games. While he exuded confidence, promising a good show, the skipper was against predicting the colour of the medal.

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“CWG is a very tough tournament, it has many top sides in the world. There are the Australians, the English, South Africans and then Pakistan. These days it is difficult to predict. We can beat any side in the world on our day. I feel we can win a medal, that much I can say. But, I don’t know we will return with a gold or not,” said the 25-year-old mid-field lynchpin.

Manpreet wants to take one game at a time, not thinking about finals, or podium finish, right at the onset. “We will take game by game and will not straightaway start thinking that we will be in the final. We have plans how to go about each of our opponents,” the Punjab player said.

Manpreet was given a break during the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament, where a young and experimental Indian team finished fifth.

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He was named the captain, in May 2017, and under him, the Indian team won the Asia Cup 2017, followed by a bronze medal feat, at the Men’s Hockey World League (HWL) Final, in Bhubaneswar.

Asked if it will be tough to captain the side, he said, “There are a lot of senior players in the team. There is Sreejesh, there is S.V. Sunil among others, and I can take advice from them and chalk out strategies. It will be a good team atmosphere.”

Manpreet was part of the Indian team that won the gold in the 2014 Asian Games. He was also part of the Indian teams, in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.