India hopes to avoid paying the penalty for failing the flick

India’s woes in penalty corners are not new. At the Asian Games, the conversion rate was far below the internationally acceptable 50 percent mark — itself a huge improve on the three out of 33 that it managed at Commonwealth Games.

Harmanpreet Singh of India during a penalty corner chance against South Africa. India's coach Harendra Singh says, Harmanpreet, Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas will get their chances during penalty corners, in the ongoing World Cup.   -  Getty Images

On Wednesday, India earned five penalty corners and converted two, both on rebound or as a variation. Belgium fared worse — it could not convert any of its seven. On a stage like the World Cup, those numbers may well be the difference between winning and losing.

India’s woes in the department are not new. At the Asian Games, the conversion rate was far below the internationally acceptable 50 percent mark — itself a huge improve on the three out of 33 that it managed at Commonwealth Games. The reluctance of successive coaches to not attempt too many variations or even give more opportunities to the second and third line of drag-flickers in the side has also remained an unsolved mystery.

Read: Erratic India begins World Cup with a bang

Coach Harendra Singh insisted things have changed. “There will be a lot more variations seen here and they will be done regardless of the situation or state of the game. We have worked on our drills and we will certainly try and use them,” he told Sportstar on the team’s rest day after its opening game here.

But, he added, it would also be dependent on how the first one goes. “If a direct shot is converted, the confidence levels of the player goes up a lot and that translates into generally getting more shots on target. But that doesn’t mean all shots will be direct after that. Also, like we did against South Africa, all three of our players — Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas — will get their chances,” he said.

India's Varun Kumar is one of the three preferred penalty corner takers.   -  AP

 

Shane McLeod, on the other hand, credited the fast improving standards of defence for scoring getting tougher. “Teams are getting very good at defending corners, they are certainly doing their homework. The goalkeeping standards are also at a very high level internationally at the moment. Our goalkeeper (Vincent Vanasche) is at a very high level and PR Sreejesh has taken some very big steps in that area in recent years,” the Belgian coach admitted.

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But both agree that the final flick is just one-third of the entire routine even though the scorer alone gets both the bouquets and the brickbats. “In the first match also, there was problem with both injection and stopping at different moments, and once we couldn’t stop. All of it matters, specially now, when the space for stopping has become very small,” Harendra explained.

Asked about the pressure of being the go-to man during PCs on Harmanpreet, Harendra said there was no one go-to man in any department. “For me, all three are number one flickers. And having any two on the field at a time only helps us keep the opposition guessing,” he said.

Also read: Only target is to play as a unit, says Manpreet Singh

They both believe PCs could end up being the differentiator on Sunday. “May be corners are going to be the deciding factor with both teams pretty even in their abilities in those areas,” McLeod said.

“We have three very good flickers, as have they including Tom Boon. PCs will play a huge role in the outcome of the game,” Harendra agreed.

With space shrinking and margin of error miniscule, Sunday would be a good time for the flickers to step up and be counted.