Hockey Pro League: Reid's India eager to outwit Dutch challenge

The last time India faced Netherlands, Graham Reid was on the Dutch bench. A year later, Reid leads India against the same opponent in the Hockey Pro League.

Having been a part of the Dutch coaching setup in the past, India coach Graham Reid will give his Indian side great insights going into their Pro League match against the Netherlands.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Constantly under the spotlight with the invisible burden of history, the Indian men’s hockey team will take its first steps towards yet another Olympic dream with the first game of the double-header against Netherlands in its Hockey Pro League opener here on Saturday.

The upcoming six months will be the most comprehensive Olympic preparation for the team in recent times, in terms of both quality and quantity. Having withdrawn from the inaugural edition of the competition in 2019, this year will see the team take on the world’s top-eight teams in similar back-to-back games in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. The coming weekend would be the first test in that series, in a format the team hasn’t played too often.

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The last time the team did so competitively was during the Olympic Qualifiers in November last but, with an opposition like Russia, that would be worlds away from the kind of challenge Netherlands would pose. With most European players used to it in their club games, the visitor, for once, would be in a more familiar situation than the host.

The Indian men's hockey team, led by captain Manpreet Singh (second from right), trains on the eve of its Pro League clash against Netherlands.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

 

The last time the two teams met, the Dutch came back from being a goal down to end India’s World Cup campaign in the quarterfinals in 2018. India coach Graham Reid, then, was on the opposition bench as deputy to Max Caldas and would be the insider in the Indian management.

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In the year since, India has had outings against teams largely ranked lower, while Netherlands finished third in the inaugural HPL. Adding to the excitement – or pressure – would be the fact there would be a winner every game with drawn matches heading into shootouts.

Despite the general impression, there is little to separate the two sides in recent times with India winning four to Netherlands’ five with a draw in the last 10 outings. The difference, though, is in the fact that while India’s wins against top sides have remained occasional high points in its kitty, Netherlands has gone on to make the podium of major events more often than not.

That experience of being able to grab the big moments would be the biggest advantage for this Dutch side. India captain Manpreet Singh admitted that most of the team’s recent games could have gone either way but it was the ability to take the half-chances that made the difference. On Saturday and Sunday, it would be more of the same. Reid, across the line now, would be hoping to finish on the winning side yet again.

- Supremely fit Indians raring to go -

The one area Indians would be more than a match for the Dutch would be in fitness. While the Indian hockey team has always been among the fittest over the past decade, the bodies on field during the final training session ahead of its game against Netherlands were completely different from what one saw even three months back.

With almost zero fat, lean muscle and improved strength and stamina, it could easily be a front-runner for the fittest Indian team at the moment.

At least seven of the players, including both seniors like Lalit Upadhyay, Manpreet Singh, Surender Kumar and youngsters Sumit and Jaskaran Singh, have managed to beat the 23.8 mark in the famed Yo-Yo test, the maximum possible, in the recent camp here.

The inside joke among the players is ‘generally sportspersons fail the Yo-Yo test. Here, Yo-Yo has failed us, get something more intense now’. A far cry from the times when the Indians were automatically assumed to be inferior to the Europeans and the Australians. For the record, the Indian cricket team's fittest player at last count was Manish Pandey with a score of 19.2 last year.

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