Sportstar Hangout E01: India men’s hockey team captain Harmanpreet Singh on Olympic aspirations, his daughter Ruhanat and the drive to keep improving

Indian men’s hockey captain Harmanpreet Singh visited The Hindu’s Chennai Headquarters for a sit-down chat with the team. The conversation covered his time as skipper, Olympic journey, his baby daughter and the road ahead.

Published : Dec 08, 2023 17:21 IST , CHENNAI - 35 MINS READ

A defender and a talismanic drag flicker - Indian men’s hockey team captain Harmanpreet Singh rolls the worlds of offense and defense into one package. The 27-year-old has been leading the Indian side from the front, scoring 13 goals in the team’s gold medal-winning Asian Games campaign. He scored an identical number of goals in the Asian Champions Trophy earlier in the year, where India topped the podium. In the 2022-23 FIH Pro League, Harmanpreet leads the goal tally, netting 18 goals. 

National pool players featured in the Hockey India Men’s Senior Nationals after five years, and Harmanpreet led Punjab to a thrilling win in the tournament, beating the defending champion in a summit clash that went into penalties. Harmanpreet was adjudged player of the tournament with nine goals in five games.

Sportstar hosted the Indian skipper at The Hindu’s Chennai headquarters for a fireside chat about his leadership, balancing life on and off the field and the biggest note on the Indian hockey vision board - a podium finish at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Lavanya: Thank you for joining us on such short notice. We don’t get to meet the Indian captain everyday. So we’re very happy to have you here Harman. 

Harmanpreet: Thank you. 

Lavanya: First tell us, you are playing the Hockey Senior Nationals and it’s the first time in many years that senior India players are featuring in the tournament. Tell us what the experience of the tournament here in Chennai has been like. 

Harmanpreet: Amazing, because we’ve got this chance after a very long time. All credit goes to Hockey India and our coach (Craig Fulton) who encouraged us to play. After the Asian Games, we had quite a long break. We had a camp scheduled for this time, but the brass believed that this (senior nationals) was a better option. When we’re playing at the domestic, it would benefit those we play with and against and would prove to be a new experience for us. It’s going well and we’re having fun. 

Lavanya: You spoke of getting some time after the Asian Games campaign. How did you all celebrate that experience, that medal? 

Harmanpreet: Amazing. After the Olympics, this was our first major achievement. Definitely, our families and the people of our state were there to welcome us at the airport when we landed. It was such a proud moment for us all. When you go abroad and win a medal for India and come, we naturally feel good considering our hard work has gone into it. And the people who watch us, support us and expect us to do well, when they come and meet us in success, it feels very good. Along with that, you also recognise that your responsibility is increasing. That also motivates you and makes you see that you’re achieving something, that there are people to stand by you when you’re doing well and that there are people watching hockey. And it then becomes our duty to do our best wherever we go. 

Lavanya: Right. Let’s revisit your roots. You have quite a sweet story. You would get on top of a tractor and attempt to drive it as a child. 

Harmanpreet: My father is a farmer, ma’am. When I wasn’t playing hockey, I was with my father, working with him. I would then go to school. It was a life of struggle but it was good too. There was no sportsperson in my family before me. In the school I went to, many sports were played with interest. So, my journey was without a plan. I just had an interest in sports. I used to play volleyball, do 100m running, play football, basketball - everything but hockey. During one of my semester breaks, coaches there asked me to pick a sport I would be interested in playing. I brushed shoulders with the hockey coach there and he asked me, “Why don’t you try hockey?” My journey with this sport started there. 

Lavanya: In your formative years, who would you credit in the process of making you the Harmanpreet you are today? You have come through Surjit academy as well...

Harmanpreet: I started out at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Ludhiana. I was there for three years. In class 10, I was selected by Surjit Academy. This place has produced many good players. So when they would come to practice, we would watch them and get motivated. It was a big boost to have senior players and those representing India coming and playing alongside us there. That’s where my journey in the sport really took shape. Have to thank my coach there, Avtaar Singh. He made us put in a lot of hard work. Our batch, and our journey in hockey has endured and many of us from that batch are still playing together. 

Lavanya: If we look at your skill set, you’re a gifted defender. And you are adept at drag flicks too. When you got into hockey, how did you develop these two, especially starting out? 

Harmanpreet: If I look at my journey starting out, it was not that great. When I got to Surjit Academy, the Hockey India League was on. There, the games that would happen, especially under lights. At the time, we had no experience playing under lights. When these players got done with their games, they would leave and we would scurry to get as much time under the lights as possible. We would grab whatever/whose ever (hockey) stick we could find and go for it. That was our journey. 

Lavanya: The India head coach Craig Fulton, in an interview recently, said that every person in the national team, no matter the position, should know how to defend. To block chances, to close space. These are things that are part of your skillset naturally. How is that working out for the team? 

Harmanpreet: This is a very important concept. Early on, our roles were pretty set in stone, a defender would defend. But today’s hockey demands different things. Our defense line starts from the front, through the midfield and then through to the goalkeeper. So defense is important. We need to set up quickly. We need to figure out positions on the go. We need to remember our structures and then adapt to them during the game. Off the ball roles are there for everyone and those are very important and it’s something this unit is working on diligently. 

Lavanya: I want to take you back to the start of the year to that World Cup. It was a low of a kind, because of India’s disappointing 9th place finish. From there, to this gold at the Hangzhou Asian Games, we’ve seen how the team has shaped up but how has this ride been for you as a captain? 

Harmanpreet: To be honest, it was the first tournament where my performance as a drag flicker was abysmal. In the field, I know I did my best but in this position, this was a very poor tournament for me personally. It was a huge lesson for me. Such situations come up very often in a player’s life but you need to be clear about where you’re headed, what your target is. If you sit and stew over it and over not being able to do something right, it gets very hard to get over it and move ahead. All credit goes to my team. We are always together, we share things with each other, lift each other up and support each other. That was a big positive for me that there was not one negative comment that I heard during that time. That was a testing time for me. Beyond that phase, we’ve had a good run as a team. Whether it’s the FIH Pro League or the Asian Champions Trophy or even the Asian Games, the team has shown remarkable improvement. Our coach is very experienced - he was with the Belgium side before, which is one of the best teams in the world and he’s been sharing his wisdom with us. He used whatever time he got before the Asian Games to work on us as a unit and we took in all his fresh strategies and planning and figured our way around it all together. So the journey has been really good. 

Lavanya: You talked about the mental aspect and how your team rallied behind you. You’ve had assistance from someone like Paddy Upton who has held a few conditioning camps with the team. Tell us a little about that. In terms of mental health, how has the Indian side’s approach evolved over the last few years?

Harmanpreet: It has definitely changed. We’ve learnt a lot in the sessions we’ve had. We sit together and share with our teammates whatever is on our mind. It could be match-related, it could be about our families or something personal but we sit and talk about it and that has helped strengthen the bonding in this team so much. Upton shared his experiences of working towards the Cricket World Cup and what all he observed in his nine to ten-month stint with the Indian side. He carried a lot of lessons from there into his work with us. For example, ahead of the Asian Games, he asked us to visualise what our reactions would be like if we managed to win gold at the Asian Games. In case things get difficult in the semifinals, what should our mindset be? So we were mentally prepared for any consequence. A big example is the Asian Champions Trophy. Anything could happen. We could be leading or we might trail in the score. At that time, priority is to stay calm and focus on the roles assigned to us. So we were ready. The result is there for everyone to see. We were behind on goals and mounted a comeback and eventually won the match.  Lavanya: When we talk about Craig Fulton, he is someone who is constantly observing other systems and sports. He spoke of seeing what Gary Kirsten did with the Indian side in 2011 among others. Are you the same way as captain? Do you also look at what captains around the world are doing in the way they run their teams? 

Harmanpreet: Absolutely. We have a lot of team meetings and we analyse every opponent down to the last player. As a defender, I have to know what the forward line of an opposition looks like. Same thing with the penalty corner attack or the defence. I try to see the positives and negatives of their goalkeeper. The more we know, the more we will benefit. 

Lavanya: Are you a strict captain?

Harmanpreet: No no. I am very calm. No one is strict. 

Lavanya: Since you are here for Senior Nationals, we also wanted to invite Karthi Selvam. He had said that you are an inspiration for him. You yourself are only 27 years old. How do you feel when players say they have grown up watching you play hockey?

Harmanpreet: It feels really good. It’s a responsibility. When a youngster comes, learns the game and becomes mature, he continues that tradition. When you get to hear such things from others that they are watching you play and analysing you, it stays in your mind. Whenever you step on the pitch and your every move is being watched carefully by someone, you make sure that you do your job well so that those who are watching you and learning from you, are in a better place. Whenever I enter the ground, I try to give my best, which I have been doing. Ups and downs are a part of the game but I try to inspire players through my hockey. I also try to meet and talk to the players as much as possible.

Lavanya: Despite the legacy we have as a nation, 10 years back, India would not exactly be a team to beat, slipping under the radar at major events. Now it is among the contenders as third in the world. How do you view this evolution of Indian hockey?

Harmanpreet: This is very important. As you mentioned, a decade ago, the scores were pretty one-sided. I’m sorry to say this but it is true. It’s just that when you have been given some of the best facilities and your every need is being taken care of, your only responsibility is to play good hockey. Whenever we are in a training camp, we work hard. We spend more time in training camps than in our homes and stay away from our families. It reminds us that we have a responsibility to work hard and build a good team. If I talk about today’s situation, I feel we have beaten almost every team and that too multiple times. That is something which motivates us and boosts the team’s confidence. 

Lavanya: Asian Games done. Next assignment is the Paris Olympics. In the team, what’s the conversation like with regards to preparation?

Harmanpreet: At the moment, we have a break (laughs). It has been the longest break for us. Usually, we get a week or two off to go home. From Nationals, we head to a 10-day training camp before our Spain tour. We don’t have much time but that’s a good thing that we are playing matches and practising. Everyone is now representing their states, playing against each other and staying fit. Since there are good teams coming to Spain, we will try to maintain the level we have shown on the international stage during the 10-day camp. 

Lavanya: You have a baby daughter. How difficult is it for you to be away from her so much and how do you compensate when you go home?

Harmanpreet: It’s an amazing feeling (being a father).I went back home after the Asian Games. We had a meeting before the tournament where everyone was asked who they’ll dedicate the medal to when they win gold and every player had a different answer.  We have the video recording. I had said that if we win the gold medal, I’ll dedicate it to my daughter. When I landed in India, I put my medal around her neck at the airport. It was a proud moment for me.

Lavanya: Do you have similar plans for Paris?

Harmanpreet: Absolutely. All medals are for her

Lavanya: We’ve spoken. Let me try and get the audience involved as well. .

Audience member: You are one of the best drag flickers in the world. When you are taking a penalty corner, we assume that it is definitely going to be a goal even before the routine begins. What is going on in your mind during that time when the ball is being injected?

Harmanpreet: We practise a lot and spend so much time on these things during our camps. So, our focus is to keep the ball on target and go for the goal every time but if I talk about today’s scenario, all the teams are working very hard regarding this. Even our penalty corner defence is very strong. Goalkeepers and first rushers of today are very smart and are analysing us. So, it is becoming more difficult but I keep my confidence high and think about where to flick the ball whenever we get the PC. If we score a goal or it is saved, that comes later. First thought that comes to mind is to fulfil the responsibility that you have been given.

Audience member: Harman, do you have a Yo Yo Test?

Harmanpreet: Yes, Sir.

Audience member: What’s the score?

Harmanpreet:I have finished it sir. My last score is 23.8.

Audience member: That should answer a lot of questions for people in the room regarding the difference between cricket and hockey. Secondly, who is the most skilled Indian player you have watched, past or present? Who do you like to watch play -  one Indian and one from other countries?

Harmanpreet: Tom Boon because I have played with him in Hockey India League. He still plays so well and is skilled. Another one is Florian Fuchs but I think he has retired now. If I talk about the Indian team, given the history and the players that we have had, I’m sorry but I can’t take any one name. Almost each and every one of them inspires us.

Audience member: Anyone amongst the teammates?

Harmanpreet:If I talk about the forwardline, there is Mandeep. For midfield, Hardik and Manpreet. Even others, especially youngsters who are coming up, are also good such as Abhishek and Sukhjeet.

Audience member: In the beginning, you spoke about how you play the game as a defender and set up the attacks. Now, you are the captain? Can you tell the difference? How do you play as a player and as a player-captain? Does a defensive mindset ever seep into how you approach a game? 

Harmanpreet: Same, Sir. I need to play hockey only. I’m just focusing on what I’m doing. If you talk about being a defender, drag flicker, captain, there is no pressure due to that. These are your responsibilities. You know, as a defender and a drag flicker, what your role is. Definitely, as a captain, you need to analyse different things to make sure everyone is comfortable. If someone makes a mistake on the field, we also have to make sure that he does not lose confidence. In today’s hockey, there is no specific position for anyone. We see that defenders, who are going forward and earning those penalty corners are skillful. Defensively, you know, without the ball, what your responsibility is. With the ball, it is totally different. You can go forward or track back. If a defender is attacking, you make sure that the midfielders are filling the gaps.

Audience member: Right now, you are one of the most prolific drag flickers in world hockey but in your formative years, what made you pick up the skill and at what age did you realise that you could do it? Did you see anyone and then tried to emulate them?

Harmanpreet:I started drag flicking from my academy days. When I came to the national camp, I knew what drag flick was. From the junior level, I started doing it. You have a separate training for that. Your gym routine is different. The entire practice of drag flicking, whenever we do penalty corner training, is different. In that, we use a lot of variations. For example, how you can beat the first rusher.

Audience member: How much do your muscles play a part in generating power?

Harmanpreet: I don’t have muscle, sir. I have power only. No show-off. Definitely, it is tough. We practise a lot. In a week, we have a separate practice for PC for two to three days. Different exercises in the gym for lower back, arms.

Audience member: We were talking about your daughter, it has been six months since you’ve become a dad. Your daughter has a very unique name, who named her and what does it mean? 

Harmanpreet: My wife named her. We all know Ruhaniyaat (spirituality), so we thought of something different and named her Ruhanat Kaur. Google also doesn’t have anything to say about the meaning of the name, sorry. (Audience laughs). Ruhanat is a positive thing. Where all the good things accumulate can be called Ruhanat. 

Audience member: How things have changed after becoming a father, especially when you’re at home?

Harmanpreet: I have to wake up at odd times at night (Audience laughs) and make sure I’m changing diapers on time (laughs). No, it is a good responsibility and I’m enjoying it because I get to spend very little time with my family so, I try to be happy when I’m there with them and spend as much time with my daughter. 

Audience member:  When you’re leaving your home after a long break, how did you feel? 

Harmanpreet: It was undoubtedly difficult to leave my family behind. However, my motivation stems from the responsibility I have towards them. I aspire to make them proud. When my daughter grows up and witnesses me playing, she will be proud of me and there’s no bigger motivator than that. I am working hard towards that.

Audience member: I heard you say you like music, so do you have any specific pre-match routines like listening to a particular song? Let me give you my example. Before my board exams,I used to listen to a particular song. 

Harmanpreet: Which song sir? (Audience laughs)

Audience member: There was a football movie called Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, it had a song by Daler Mehndi. I used to listen to that before my exams!

Harmanpreet: You listened to that song before your exams? (Audience laughs)

Audience member: Please tell us if you have any specific songs like that. How does music help you in match situations or in training? Do you think it helps you focus more on your game?

Harmanpreet: I pray regularly and before a match, I pray. Music is very close to my heart. I wanted to be a singer as a kid. I mostly listen to Punjabi songs. I listen to the late Sidhu Moose Wala’s songs, they give me a boost.

V Bhaskaran: I’d like to have a word for a few minutes. I’ve seen Harmanpreet play for many years. He’s one of the very few players who has not played for any private team or club team during national camp. Even now, he represents Punjab but doesn’t represent any other PSU or any other undertaking. 

What I find as a standout difference between Harman and the rest of the field is - Indian drag flickers are all six-footers. Indian drag-flickers are all 85 and above - this applies to players around the world. He (Harmanpreet) is the only Lilliput who can beat the tallest goalkeepers in the world. I have seen him during the Champions Trophy, I met him during the World Cup also, I met him when he was going through a low phase, but I said don’t think about what has happened. I never taught him anything, never had to. He has learnt it all by himself. He is someone who can attack all four corners of the goal. Sometimes, when you look back at the video, it looks like the goalkeeper could’ve saved, but you then see how hard it is to save something off Harman’s stick. For this I should credit his own mental strength. 

I do have a question. Selectors come to tournaments for two or three days, then there is the coach who has his own input. I want to know how involved is Harmanpreet in the selection of the team? 

Lavanya: That’s something we would like to ask you [Harmanpreet], as a captain how much of a say you have in selection?

Harmanpreet: Yes, of course, definitely when the officials and coaches come for selection, even though we are giving the trial and the time we have for discussion is very less, the team is usually selected mostly before that. Ahead of a tournament, the coach discusses with me about who has been good and who is improving. 

Lavanya: One more thing that he said about you is that your mental strength sets you apart from the rest. You have been playing hockey for over a decade in the senior age group in the Indian setup, so now how do you motivate yourself? Of course you do it for your daughter and create a legacy for her but apart from that how do you keep yourself motivated. 

Harmanpreet: I never stop learning, I always try to learn new things even in hockey. Learning for me is always constant because no matter how big or successful you become, the learning process of yours should continue throughout your life. So my mindset is to constantly improve how I manage my mindset, health, fitness and life off the field. I am still learning in all of those aspects.

Audience member: Hockey is one such game in which there are a lot of rules changing all the time. Whenever we watch it we always find new rules that have been made or changed. So do you know about the new rules beforehand?

Harmanpreet: Not as such, whenever a new rule comes, we only get to know it when it’s announced, that something has changed so accordingly we practise in our training. For example, when we talk about self start, when it came into play, hockey became very fast-paced because of it. So you have to practise that mindset that anyone can self-start and attack instantly and you have to be five metres away from the ball. So these small small changes happen but they can be managed easily. 

Audience member: So I assume there’s no time for sledging in hockey to get on the nerves of the opponents?

Harmanpreet: Chalta hai (it happens) (Laughs) 

Audience member: There’s this one country that gives India a lot of pain, in all sports - Australia. The Netherlands goes and beats Australia and we beat the Netherlands. We beat Germany and we put up a strong fight for Belgium as well. But when it comes to Australia on the bigger stages we sometimes, this isn’t a criticism, but something happens. We are competitive in tours but on bigger stages, they take the upper hand. 

Harmanpreet: We will break them sir, we have beaten them before and we will continue to. Yes yes, I can understand your pain. 

Audience member: I like your confidence, thank you. Thank you. 

Audience member: There’s always winning and losing in sports but after losing crunch matches, the heartbreak that comes with it -how important is it to deal with those and how do you deal with it?

Harmanpreet: Let’s talk about the Olympics and Australia’s case itself. During the league matches the scores were not that good. So during the meetings we had with the coach and players, we spoke about that. If something has happened, then you have to forget about it. If you keep thinking about it, it will happen again in the next match because it will be on your mind and you won’t be able to focus. So we talk about forgetting what has happened but remember what you have learned from it. So that is how we handle it as a team. We have a staff that analyses and tells us we are better than this. So we bring that confidence back up that we have played against them and done good things as well. Because even if we lose, there are things that we have done well in the match. Improvement is always there, whether you win or lose. In defeat, what matters more is what you learn from it.

Audience member: All good hockey teams have multiple penalty-corner variations other than the drag flick. So could you tell us how you design and decide those and when to use them in the match? Is it a decision made by the coach or is it something you decide on the spot?

Harmanpreet: No no, there’s a plan for specific opponents, there’s a plan that if we are facing this team, we will employ the drag flick a certain way, at a certain angle and with certain variations. All of that comes from the coach. The coach assesses match situations and tells us how we can utilise our resources.

Audience member: And what is the process of planning such variations?

Harmanpreet: The plan is to make sure we practise the variations. Penalty corners start with pushing, then we focus on stop, then we can either drag flick or we can do some variations, but the problem is that timing is very important in those, and even the player has to be available there. Transition should be smooth and we work on all this in camp which then helps us in the matches. 

Audience member: Penalty shooters from 1964 have done well. Prithipal Singh in the Tokyo Olympics had scored a lot of goals. And after that, we didn’t find, for a certain period of time, a good penalty corner specialist. Why such a long duration for our team to find a good penalty corner specialist, any reasons? Has the modern-game changed, because in ‘64, Prithipal Singh had scored more than 10 goals in shoot-outs. After a long duration, Sumit has come, why is this gap? Has technology changed the game? 

Harmanpreet: No sir, in our camp, we have more than five drag flickers and we practise penalty corners. And recently in the Asian games, myself, Varun and Amit Rohidas have made some great flicks. So, no dearth of talent here. 

Audience member: What do you think about the sponsorship money and commercials of broadcast rights in hockey? Do you think it’s improving? Are you happy with the pace at which money is now coming into hockey or do you still feel we are way behind the rest? 

Harmanpreet: It is sir, actually, Hockey India has Dilip Tirkey and Bholanath sir. The grassroot level and the next generation, the youngsters are very important. If your base is good then, you can get key players and they are working on it right now. The junior levels have started and the units like Punjab hockey are giving out cash prizes. Recently there was a camp in Odisha for sub-juniors, Indian team for both boys and girls, and they have even gone on a Netherlands tour, so there is progress there as well. The basics will be strong then and even Sardar Singh and Rani Rampal went with them. This is a great opportunity for them at the junior level, so that you know that this is the structure and this way of playing. This is a great step and the players that come out of this will definitely help us ahead. 

Audience member: Hockey is our national sport. My dad and people of his age support the Indian team and the sport wholeheartedly, but the youngsters and teenagers don’t follow this sport that well, so what would you like to say to them, that why is hockey such a great and exciting sport to watch and why they should watch and support it?

Harmanpreet: The history of Indian hockey is very vast and we have so many gold medals. Hockey is a completely different and tough game and when we talk about it, we are getting medals at the Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games level. So this is a great sign for hockey, that it is being revived again and I have seen many changes after we came back after winning the Olympic medal. I come from a village. Before, no one used to play hockey. After we got back from Tokyo, I saw at least 60-70 kids who came up to us and said they wanted to play this game. The more we win, the more we perform, the more people will return to supporting hockey and the atmosphere will go back to what it was before. We know people are watching us and we want to inspire people to say, yes, we want to play too. So yes, I appeal to you all to support hockey. 

Audience member: Senior nationals saw national team players participating after a long time. Junior players often don’t get the chance to play with seniors. How important is this move and your participation in traditional tournaments like the Senior Nationals and Murugappa for the health of the hockey ecosystem?

Harmanpreet: Very important. We are getting the opportunity to play the Senior Nationals after so long. It’s nice that we are getting to know how the domestic level of hockey is at the moment. Almost every team we play against has national-level players. When we have meetings and have conversations on hockey, share our experiences, talk about techniques, it is very important for us. There is a responsibility we have towards the youngsters. They ask us questions about our mindset during matches. These small chats will improve their game. In Hockey India League, we used to only hear the names of big players. When we got an opportunity to play and chat with them, it was such a rich experience. Now it is a similar moment for the juniors. These things will motivate these players to achieve what they want.

Audience member: What has been the impact of the Hockey India League and the Junior World Cup victory on the success of Indian hockey?

Harmanpreet: HIL had a major role because we played against the top players of the world. We got to know of their mentality, their way of thinking, and how they analyse situations. It was a great thing for us. When I played for Dabang Mumbai, it was a big thing to play with Jamie Dwyer who then played for UP Wizards.I got to interact with him face-to-face as well. That motivated us. Hockey India has helped us a lot too. New faces, new players come out of these and represent the Indian team.

Audience member: Growing up, India vs Pakistan was a very big rivalry for us. Now Zaffar Iqbal has also said we need Pakistan players in the ecosystem and the Indian leagues. Do you think we need to revive the bilateral Test series against Pakistan? No politics...

Harmanpreet: Was waiting for this. No politics, sir. We are talking about hockey here. We play against a lot of teams. When we play against Pakistan also it is the same. There are benefits for us as well. We get to learn a lot about all teams and not just Pakistan. When we tour five-nations or four-nations, we also get to learn a lot and analyse them. It applies to any team we play.

Mohammed Riaz: I am one from the selection committee of Hockey India. So, whenever we go for the selection trials, we see captaincy generally. We see the senior-most and the player. On Harmanpreet, we see that irrespective of the match situation, he is composed and cool. He is able to balance his captaincy and his individual performance. His communication is impeccable during a game. He urges the boys not to earn cards and controls the game very subtly. That’s very commendable. Coaches know the needs of the team against different opponents. Captain plays a major role on the pitch in executing these strategies and ensuring the control of the game stays in our hand. 

Second thing about him - the skills involved in a drag flick aside, his positive approach and coolness, especially if he misses, or something goes wrong, sets him apart. In Chennai during the Asian Champions Trophy final, when India was three goals down, he didn’t lose hope. He kept motivating the boys and rallying the side. 

I too have a question. When you miss a penalty corner in an important match, how do you manage the frustration and focus on goal conversion? 

Harmanpreet: Thank you so much, first of all.  My mindset has always been to not think much about the goal. I believe in myself that I can do it. Whether that happens or not, that is something that comes later. My main focus is always giving my 100 percent and doing what is expected of me. It is like you said, all teams try to analyse. Today, we have three drag flickers and on the field we have two of them on the field. That is a positive sign. It is a positive that they are performing well. Penalty corners need just a second. You need to beat the first rusher only.

Riaz: Even when you are standing, the rushers come towards you only.

Harmanpreet:(laughs) That is a good thing. That gives the second drag flicker an opportunity to get better timing. We are working on that also. In today’s hockey, there are two rushers. We talk about that and the changes we can bring forth. We have started practising and working on that. Hopefully, we keep getting better. 

Audience member: These days, the game is very physical. So nutritionist and recovery post game, do you have adequate staff or did you ever feel that it’d be better if you had more?

Harmanpreet: No, sir. We have everything. Nutrition, recovery centre, we have two good physios and two masseurs. I think they take care of us well.

Audience member:: Do you get the same at the junior level?

Harmanpreet: Yes, sir. Even if a player picks up an injury, Sports Authority of IndiaI handles the rehab. There are physios designated for that as well. The infrastructure in place is remarkable. 

Audience member: You are an active player. I always had a question. We play tennis on clay, grass and hardcourt. When we dominated hockey, we used to play on grass. Weren’t there any conversations about playing on dual surfaces internationally? I think it would make the game more interesting. The one who ends up dominating both will become the GOAT (greatest of all time). They changed the game. We took 35 years to catch up with them. 23.8 (YoYo score) is remarkable. But it took us a lot of time. They took out the element from our game. If we play cricket on turf, for example, the strongest will win. There will be no question of skill.

Riaz: If they still had grass, only India and Pakistan would have won. (Audience laughs)

Audience member: But that move ended up tying us down. We had to play their game.

Harmanpreet: It has taken us a lot of time. Now if we too suddenly play on grass, it will be difficult for us too.

Audience member:  Exactly, that is what I am saying. You started on turf, right?

Harmanpreet: No, sir.

Audience member: You started on grass, right? Then you must have learnt to play on turf later?

Harmanpreet: Yes, sir.

Audience member: I am from Sundargarh. I know. If it would have been on two surfaces, I feel it would have been spectator friendly as well. Other nations will also come down from their high horse.

Harmanpreet: No, sir. We cannot say that there is only one team dominating on turf. Almost all teams are accustomed now.

Audience member: Yes, now it is super competitive.

Harmanpreet: Yes, sir.

Baskaran: The answer is very simple. Can I answer this?

Lavanya: Yes, please. Please go ahead.

Baskaran: This is a FIH Congress meeting question where a Harmanpreet or Baskaran alone can’t answer. They tried it during the 1998 World Cup in Utrecht. There was a meeting where it was asked why not have a World Cup on grass? Simple. Not that all countries had to play. It’s like when you skip Wimbledon. Some people like to play the French Open. Not all the best have to take part. Whichever country wants to take part, can do so and it can also be called the World Cup. Same with the French Open. French Open 50 per cent will not play. Because it is very fast. Hockey is the same. Converting from astroturf to grass at this time is impossible

. Audience member: What about a window where we have only one tournament?

Harmanpreet: Sir, sorry for butting in. The turf also changes. And no single team is suffering. If we talk about Paris, there may be a different turf there. So, for that, we will be given the facilities in advance. There are no problems.

Baskaran: In 10 days, you can adjust to the astroturf but not grass.

Audience member: I want to see them on grass. (Audience laughs)

Harmanpreet: Sir, we will host a friendly with them and you can join us as chief guest. (Audience laughs)

Baskaran: There are some places in India where the grass is very, very good. Balgarh, then Karnal. The turf is well maintained, even better than a cricket ground. You can play 25 games in one day. But it would take a lot of time. The reason for not opting for grass was the expenses that would be incurred was more than the accommodation.

Audience member: Harman, you had a really good junior record. You debuted at the Sultan of Johor in 2015 and the Junior World Cup too/ The Indian team is playing the Junior World Cup next month. Any suggestions for the young Indian players?

Harmanpreet: During camps, the juniors stay with us. We continue to have practice matches. They have a brilliant team. When they have played against us, they have given us tough competition. They have been doing well in the past tournaments. I am not talking about the result but gamewise, they have improved a lot. I believe they will do well at the World Cup and win.

Lavanya: Right, we’ll call it a day at this point.

Baskaran: This is the first time I’ve seen him speak so much.

Lavanya: Thank you for joining us Harman and all the best for everything that comes ahead. 

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