Some are born leaders and get the responsibility as a matter of right, while others have leadership thrust on them due to circumstances. Harmanpreet Singh doesn’t fall into either of these categories, yet he has traits of both of those types of leaders.
His physical stature and quiet confidence helped him quickly advance to the leadership group – both at the junior and the senior level. It was a natural progression for the 26-year-old. Given his seniority and the fact that the team management was looking for a candidate who would fit its long-term vision, he was the obvious choice to wear the armband at the beginning of 2022. The World Cup, however, will be his first big test.
Q. Congratulations on the captaincy. Is it an added responsibility or has pressure increased?
A: Thank you. I don’t think there is any extra pressure, especially in a team game like hockey. I have been a part of this team for a long time now, and many of the players have been playing together. So there is a comfort level. There are seniors also in the side – people like Manpreet Singh and Sreejesh – and they are always there for suggestions and advice. I have seen them shoulder this responsibility and have learnt from them.
Also, at this level, each player knows his individual responsibilities. So it’s not as if I have to do more now. Yes, there are additional duties such as managing team meetings and speaking on behalf of the team on the ground, but that’s it. The atmosphere in the team is such that if anyone feels a little low or looks like taking pressure, others push him on and motivate.
How comfortable do you feel with all the multitasking – as a defender, flicker, and now captain?
It’s easy. We manage to multitask because it is our responsibility. When you know you are a defender, that is your role and there is clarity in your mind, whether in practice or game. Same with drag-flick: we have four or five good flickers and we know every team observes others, so they know Harmanpreet is the main flicker, but we can also use it to our advantage. We can use variations and surprises, and let other flickers step ahead.
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How have the expectations and pressure changed since the Olympics?
I think it’s a good thing because when you represent India and win an Olympic medal, the support increases. Expectations also rise – they will want you to do better and maybe try and change the colour of the medal. But after the Olympics, we ourselves also felt that we could do anything. The confidence in our team had increased. We are going into the World Cup also with the same mentality because no one knows when we will play the World Cup at home next, and so everyone understands that this may be the last chance to get any home advantage and do our best in front of our people. We spoke before the Olympics that we had to go for a medal, but we also had to collectively take individual responsibility and give more than 100 percent on the field every time – it’s the same this time.
So what is the takeaway from Tokyo? Increased pressure or confidence?
Both, I think. When you play against big teams in a major tournament, there are no easy games. To win a medal against them helps build team confidence. You can say pressure, but I would like to call it responsibility because no one knows what the final result will be and everyone wants to keep doing better. When we know people are supporting us so much, we also have to do our best every time.
But I think those things also motivate us. When people say ‘we believe you and you can do it,’ it motivates us because we are playing not only for ourselves and the country but also for all these people. We talk about it in meetings also and a podium finish in every tournament is our primary target.
How do you assess India’s group at the World Cup, and what lessons have you taken from the Commonwealth Games match against England?
We have played all three teams, in the Pro League or the Commonwealth Games. The biggest plus point is that we are not taking anything for granted, and we know there are no easy opponents. We will go match by match and that’s what we are working on, studying their structures and analysing players and preparing accordingly. Players are asking questions and clarifying doubts.
As for the England game, I think we all know but learnt again that you have to stay in your position and structure, and take the responsibility that comes with your job till the last whistle. We have also worked on trying to avoid cards because we played with a man down for almost 28 minutes in that game which was tough.