CHENNAI: When it became apparent that the men's hockey side wouldn't be able to travel outside for valuable match practice, the team management came up with a novel idea. Get the juniors to play against the senior team at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus in Bengaluru.
These matches, though, weren't just going to be practice matches. The juniors would be aping the style and tactics of the opposition teams that India would face in Japan.
For example, the juniors would be Belgium one day. Australia the next. They also played as Japan, Belgium, Great Britain, New Zealand and Germany. All these matches were, as you would expect from an elite team, played according to Tokyo time.
So a few matches began at 7 AM inside the SAI campus (10.30 am Japan time), with players completing all required pre-match formalities right to their jerseys. It's these little tweaks that India did over the last 15 months that helped them medal in Tokyo.
The attention to detail wasn’t just limited to the field. The team management and coach Graham Reid also did something that the predecessors failed to do. Every Monday for the last few months, they got together to select their 'Olympic 16'.
After picking, they would compare notes to see which of the players made all their squads. A majority of them looked towards youth, to the likes of Shamsher Singh, Hardik Singh and Dilpreet Singh.
The management also encouraged the team to bond while in lockdown. They played games over Zoom, exchanged notes and found out the stories behind each of their teammates. They did go back home a few times during lockdown but, by and large, they were confined to the campus. It helped them understand their teammates better.
Some understanding was already there because a majority of this squad had already played and won the Junior World Cup in Lucknow in 2016. Eight of the 19, including the three reserves, had won five years ago. Considering they had all transitioned to the core probables with relative ease, they knew what they were capable of.w
On a baking hot day in Tokyo, they showed it.