In the right direction

India’s chief coach Joaquim Carvalho is now looking forward to the Champions Trophy. “Doing well in the tournament would be a major achievement,” he says in a chat with Nandakumar Marar.

Carvalho is drawing from his personal experience in international hockey and also making use of the lessons learnt under noted India coaches, Balkishen Singh and M. P. Ganesh, in moulding Team India. The 2007 Asia Cup victory is only a step forward in the process of building a strong and confident Indian team.

Carvalho is a firm believer in skills. He allows players in attacking formations the liberty to use their skills, but in return demands of the team, including the forwards, a commitment to defend at all costs. India’s breath-taking goals and immaculate tackling in the Asia Cup — the team scored 57 goals and conceded only five in seven matches — reflected its efficiency in both offensive and defensive play.

Following Balkishen’s idea of treating the players as ‘adults’ and Ganesh’s player-management techniques, India’s chief coach created a mechanism for players whereby they had to take up responsibility of the team’s training and preparation. “Captains are chosen for different positions (forward-line, midfield, defence) and for off-field activities like video sessions when the player groups write down suggestions. Each captain takes up the responsibility of his group. After practice, the players interact in meetings in which I am not present, so the discussions are more open,” Carvalho says.

Carvalho teamed up with his former India team-mate M. M. Somaya, who is now the technical advisor to the senior Indian team, to jot down ‘mantras’ for each player to learn and implement. The mantras comprised hard-running, tackling, communication, pressing tactics and removing the ball from pockets near the corner flag.

“The Asia Cup win is a sign that Indian hockey is moving in the right direction. We are now looking at the Champions Trophy next. Doing well there would be a major achievement,” says Carvalho while speaking to Sportstar at LEGENDS, his sports shop in Bandra, Mumbai.

The excerpts:

Question: Winning is becoming a habit with Team India …

Answer: We started by not giving too much respect to our opponents. The boys were taught to have confidence in themselves and believe that every team is beatable.

Self-belief in the team was evident from the way the players maintained formation and focus in the Asia Cup…

The players were trained to keep their position. Each one was told what his specific role was. Responsibility was divided among the players and each of them knew what was expected of him, whether he was with the ball or not. When the team adopted pressing tactics, you may have noticed our defenders in the rival half, supporting the attack yet maintaining the formation.

The energy level in the team was high, taking into account the fact that India was attacking all the time when in possession and tackling hard after losing possession?

The boys worked very hard at the camp in Bangalore prior to the tournament, under badminton coach Ganguly Prasad. He worked on their endurance and strength. He put them through sand-running, made them do sprints and stride running apart from regular workouts in the gym to develop their muscular strength. After taking over as coach, I told the boys that they were the most skilful forwards in the world, but skills must be backed by hard work.

Two back-to-back wins against South Korea in the Asia Cup is commendable. In the end, the Koreans were rattled?

Three back-to-back wins over Korea, if the Azlan Shah victory is counted. Koreans depend on fitness, and they believe they are the only Asian side capable of taking on the Europeans in that area. I was convinced that we had the skills to tire them out. The Koreans ran a lot just to get hold of the ball and got tired. Our defence, backed by the midfield, took care to keep the ball away from the pockets near the corner flags.

The field goals scored by India had flair and style. Does this indicate a change in tactics in the wake of reverses suffered over the years?

We worked specifically on scoring field goals. We trained on creating chances in a crowded defence and converting them through dives and deflections. The early matches, against a couple of weak teams, gave our forwards the opportunities to score many field goals. This gave them plenty of confidence to plan and execute field goals against tougher teams.

What is your concept of effective hockey? Indian hockey has been going round in circles trying to strike the right balance between the Asian and the European tactics?

I am a firm believer in Balkishen Singh’s methods. So, apart from the mantras Somaya and I had devised for the team, the players used the aerial ball and hard hits to the rival goalline. Balkishen taught us how to use these long, hard hits to make the opponent start all over again. It worked against Australia in the Azlan Shah Trophy in 2007. In keeping with his belief, that the midfielders should have a great physical presence, I had powerful players like Sardara Singh, Bimal Lakra and Ignace Tirkey in the middle. They are all capable of handling tough physical play.

* * * VIDEO SUPPORT

Team India watched a motivational video created by Prasanna, the team’s video analyst, prior to the Asia Cup.

“The video contained visual clips of the best goals scored, the best saves by goalkeepers, the best moves by the players, accompanied by songs from the Hindi movie, ‘Chak de India’, and the National Song, ‘Vande Mataram,’” revealed chief coach Joaquim Carvalho.

“Prasanna’s mastery of video technology also helped in match situations. He used a software called ‘Dragflick’ to shoot live hockey action, create info on specific situations like penalty corner conversion or penalty corner defence.

"During half-time he would come to the bench with the edited footage and I would ask him to show me the specific shots for analysis and follow-up. Players could see the video footages of them in action. It is amazing how much video support in expert hands is helpful in taking decisions,” Carvalho said.