FIH Pro League: Refinement the mantra as India braces up for England challenge

India will be hoping to squash some doubts and turn in a couple of convincing performances when it hosts England in Bhubaneswar on Saturday and Sunday.

India will play England at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar this weekend. - HOCKEY INDIA

The ongoing campaign of the FIH Pro League has thrown up solutions and problems for the Indian men’s hockey team. After the Tokyo Olympics, coach Graham Reid has been on an experimental spree with the larger picture – Asian Games later this year and World Cup in 2023 – in mind.

A new-look attack, which is taking shape, has been among the goals, scoring 41 in eight matches, and taking the team over the line. The experienced Mandeep Singh remains the leader in attack with the fresh-faces Abhishek and Sukhjeet Singh showing promise. The emergence of defender Jugraj Singh, who made his debut during the tournament and scoring two penalty corners against Argentina, as an alternative drag-flicker in the team to Harmanpreet Singh, bodes well after its struggles from penalty corners in recent games.

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But a largely settled and experienced defence has been porous, conceding 23 in return. Turnover in possession has often left it exposed at the back and defensive errors has led to the side letting in 14 goals in the last four matches.

Reid’s men will be hoping to squash some doubts and turn in a couple of convincing performances when it hosts England in a two-legged tie at the Kalinga Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.

Looking to improve

Vice-captain and defender Harmanpreet stressed on the need for precision in attack and more discipline at the back. He said, “Our main focus is to make the team stronger match by match. We are learning a lot about our weaknesses and strengths. We need to improve our finishing and create more penalty corners. The decision making needs to improve. The defenders need to avoid conceding penalty corners and tackle outside the circle.”

After a last minute winner against Argentina last month, India now sits second in the standings and a point behind Germany.

While Argentina posed a physical battle over the two legs, an experimental England side will prove a different test for the Indian team. England, placed seventh on the table from four matches, comes into the tie on the back of successive defeats against Argentina in February. Zak Jones, the interim head coach, is keen to use the Pro League games to build preparation for the home Commonwealth Games and the World Cup in India.

‘Close games’

“We are in an early phase of our preparation with new players. We are looking at building relationships and combination plays, so these games are important for us to build momentum to the Commonwealth Games,” said Jones.

Jones expects tightly fought contests over the weekend against a skilful Indian side.

“A lot of top level games are decided by small margins. They were close games against Spain and Argentina [for us]. I see a lot of similarities between how Argentina and India play. They have skilful one-v-one players and have some good organisation in their play,” he said.

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