India can now physically match best hockey teams in the world, feels assistant coach Halkett

The current Indian men’s hockey team, according to Halkett, will be a huge threat to all the top teams because of its attack and defence.

Published : Aug 09, 2023 15:19 IST , CHENNAI - 3 MINS READ

Rhett Halkett, India’s analytical coach in the Asian Champions Trophy, said the team’s defence has witnessed a marked improvement in recent years.
Rhett Halkett, India’s analytical coach in the Asian Champions Trophy, said the team’s defence has witnessed a marked improvement in recent years. | Photo Credit: VEDHAN M
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Rhett Halkett, India’s analytical coach in the Asian Champions Trophy, said the team’s defence has witnessed a marked improvement in recent years. | Photo Credit: VEDHAN M

Rhett Halkett, the new assistant and analytical coach of the Indian men’s hockey team, has played against the current lot of P. R. Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Mandeep Singh. The 37-year-old South African, who has played in three World Cups (2010, ‘14 and ‘18), two Commonwealth Games (2010 and ‘14) and the 2012 London Olympics, felt that the Indian team has improved leaps and bounds since he saw it in London.

“There is a huge difference between then and now,” he explained to Sportstar on the sidelines of the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament in Chennai. “Purely from the physical standpoint. When we play against the best teams in the world, we can match them in terms of physicality every minute. That has been a huge improvement for me.”

The current Indian team, according to Halkett, will be a huge threat to all the top teams because of its attack and defence. “Indian hockey will always be a threat on the counter-attack, always be a team for penalty corners, with an attack regime and routine,” he added.

READ: Decoding the India vs Pakistan hockey rivalry: Old powerhouses, famous legacies, different trajectories

The best part of the Indian team, said the South African, has been its tight defence. “The wonderful thing for me now, is that I am seeing the team’s ability to defend, knuckle down and do the dirty work that goes unnoticed.”

Halkett was all praise for defender Amit Rohidas and Manpreet Singh running down at the penalty corners, which he felt is a sign of top teams’ culture. “During the match against Korea, we saw Amit running down three short (penalty) corners. That was pure gold. Manpreet did the same for two corners. That’s what makes the difference when you get into the top four or top six in big tournaments,” he said.

Halkett gave the previous head coach Graham Reid credit for instilling a good work ethic in the team. “Greg did good work as the results speak for themselves. The 2023 World Cup in India was a disappointment. But you can’t take away and overlook all the incredible work that he did before that one game [against New Zealand]. We are lucky that a lot of good habits that he helped install, we now get to finetune.”

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Halkett said head coach Craig Fulton and the coaching staff are conscious that they would not do anything to negate the inherent strengths of the Indian team. “We are very conscious that what we are doing doesn’t take away from the natural strengths of the team. It’s only an addition. That’s’ important,” he insisted.

On the much-awaited India-Pakistan clash on Wednesday, Halkett said his coaching staff would not get into the emotions and rather focus on the job at hand. “The match obviously has loads of history and passion. We will handle it without the history and baggage that comes with it. We would focus on our own performance away from the noise and outside pressure,” he said.

The defender with 157 international appearances, will be hoping that he could accomplish at Hangzhou what he did with the Dutch women’s team as an assistant coach at the Tokyo Olympics: clinch the gold.

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