Harendra Singh: ‘Champions Trophy is very important for me’

Harendra knows winning the Champions Trophy is difficult but is ready to try and create history by winning the final edition of the elite tournament.

For someone who is known to watch even local tournaments, trying to learn more about the game, Harendra Singh is blunt in saying that the current team needs to work on its basics.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Three weeks in charge of the men's hockey team and Harendra Singh is already looking forward to the first piece of silverware at the upcoming Champions Trophy in June. He knows it is difficult but is ready to try and create history by winning the final edition of the elite tournament, the one title Indian hockey has never won, with its best result being a silver in 2016.

“Champions Trophy is very important for me. One, you are getting six quality matches before the Asian Games to judge players' ability and areas of improvement. Also, a good result at CT will help erase the bad memories of Commonwealth Games (CWG) and provide confidence ahead of the Asiad. And yes, somewhere at the back of our minds we have the desire to make history and bid farewell to the tournament on a winning note,” Harendra said in an interaction with Sportstar, here.

While the Asian Games is undoubtedly the biggest assignment for the team in 2018 – even more than the World Cup in December, given that India is the reigning champion, would get a ticket to 2020 Olympics, if it defends the title and has far better chances – Harendra deliberately avoided saying so, instead emphasising on his long-term prospects.

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“I am not looking at regional dominance. Every team going to the Asian Games knows that the gold there comes with the qualification for 2020, it is no secret. The most important question right now is that while we have in top-six for the last three years, why are we not breaking into the top-four? There is a very thin line between winning and losing at this level, and the line is defined by how you defend and attack inside the circle. And those are the areas I am looking at,” he insisted.

For someone who is known to watch even local tournaments, trying to learn more about the game, Harendra is blunt in saying that the current team needs to work on its basics. “We are working on this aspect only with the players – you have to stop the ball inside the circle and then decide what to do with it, using your peripheral vision. We are working on changing the angles of receiving and passing to get them done on the move without a break, which doesn't give the opposition that extra second to organise itself.”

“Now, we say that the ball isn't stopped inside the circle, but that is a problem of basics, not skills. The strategy will always be there, but we cannot ignore basics, which we Indians, to be honest, tend to do in between. I always believe that one session of training, everyday must always be used to work on basics. These small details are actually a bigger problem than not having shots on the goal and I am happy and confident we will rectify them very soon,” he declared.

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He welcomed the presence of Chris Ciriello — who, incidentally holds an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) passport — in the staff and said that it wasn't difficult adjusting to the boys, most of whom have worked with him at some point in their junior careers, and insisted that age would never be a factor for selections, leaving the door open for the likes of Sardar Singh.

In fact, given the number of times Harendra referenced Sardar as a role model with impeccable skills, vision and game-sense, one would expect the former India captain to play an important role in the upcoming outings for the side, form and fitness permitting. Plus, going by reports from the camp, Sardar ranks among the top on both parameters in the 48-probables' list.

Asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the side at the moment, Harendra refrained from mentioning the latter. “If I have done a good job and worked on the team's strong points, I don't need to look at the opponent or my weak points. Weaknesses have a habit of coming back and affecting your game, subconsciously, in pressure situations if you keep talking about them. My strong points are a threat to the opposition, not my weaknesses. And right now, my strengths are a fast attack, the defending striker, penalty corners and goalkeeper – if these work right, I don't have to worry about the rest,” he said.