BHUBANESWAR: On the night of December 13, 2018, a dream died. Though India took the lead against The Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the men’s hockey World Cup, the latter fought back to win 2-1. Exactly six months have passed since that Thursday night and captain Manpreet Singh finally opened up on that loss.
“We (the team) were very hurt by what happened at the World Cup,” he told this newspaper on Monday.
Drinking what looked like a lukewarm beverage at the team hotel while preparing for a practice match ahead of the upcoming FIH Series Finals, he was in good spirits throughout the conversation. But it was replaced by a grim-looking face when the topic of the World Cup came up.
Especially, when this daily asked him to relive the events of that quarterfinal.
“Every chance counts... that is our biggest takeaway from that game,” he said. He is referring to a few presentable chances the hosts missed before the visitors, through Thierry Brinkman, scored a hooter-beater before the end of the first quarter.
“If we had scored those, it would have been a different game. If you miss, chances are your opponents (especially elite sides) will score from the first chance they get. That was what happened against them.”
That the World No 5 suffer from a lack of finishing instinct is an open secret. Too many chances are spurned as strikers insist on being hospitable towards the opponents. It is that disease that Singh and new coach Graham Reid have been trying to arrest the last 45 days.
“We have been working on our finishing and defensive positioning,” he said. “We really need to improve in that aspect. We got good chances (to score) even in Australia (the tour last month) but missed. We don’t score enough goals.”
Considering Singh has experienced hockey under a bevy of coaches, how does he view Reid’s first month in charge? Has it been different from the ones he has seen before?
“He’s really kind and very friendly with everyone,” the 26-year-old said.
“He’s always calm and even when he wants to make a point, he doesn’t get angry. I have not seen him get angry even once. He’s been very good for us.”
That is interesting because India’s last coach — Harendra Singh — used to show emotion at the drop of a hat. There were several times when he visibly lost his temper while making a point to his wards.
The team, under the Australian, are also trying to cut out the habit of gazing into the crystal ball. “Forget about the past. Don’t dwell too much time into the future, think about the present,” is the unofficial mantra.
The Jalandhar-born native says this is good because there have been instances in the past when players, after making errors, kept thinking about what might have been rather than what could still be.
It’s a bit like listening to the MS Dhoni school of managing a game but that’s what Singh said. “You can only control the things that are in your hand. Forget about umpiring decisions, the weather. Forget about those things. You miss a chance, go again and get another chance.
There is no point sulking about missed chances.” In essence, that’s what the hosts will look to do in from June 6. Having already missed a chance to qualify for the Olympics by winning the Asian Games, they now have another shot to get to 2020.