In Buenos Aires, the ‘belief’ in Indian hockey’s journey to Tokyo is visible | Hockey News

2021-04-12 11:04:42

NEW DELHI: The poker-faced Graham Reid looked stonier in Buenos Aires. Parked at the sidelines during the two FIH Pro League games in Argentina, the Indian men’s hockey team’s coach wore his usual deadpan expression. But Reid’s eyes kept searching for something, while his assistant Gregg Clark mostly relayed instructions onto the pitch from the edge of the dugout.
“Simple!” Reid broke his silence with a shout during the live broadcast of the second game on Sunday. An aerial pass from the right flank was made in haste, while there were men and space on the Indian player’s left to build that attack. It proved futile and Reid took his eyes off the pitch for a moment, muttering in annoyance.
But 2-0 up at that moment in the fourth quarter with goals from Harmanpreet Singh and Lalit Upadhyay, India had the game wrapped up. Mandeep Singh’s poaching skills added the comprehensive touch to the scorecard that read 3-0.

(Photo credit: @TheHockeyIndia Twitter)
However, it was Lalit’s goal that exhibited what India had learnt from a narrow escape a day earlier.
In the first game of the double-header on Saturday, India had left it as late as the last six seconds on the clock to find the equaliser and push the game into a shootout at 2-2.
Skipper Manpreet Singh found a rare high during a rusty outing to stitch a spirited run through the heart of the Argentine defence for a penalty corner. Harmanpreet drag-flicked his second goal of the game to level things up, before PR Sreejesh out-kept rival Juan Vivaldi between the posts to help India bag a bonus point.

(Photo credit: @TheHockeyIndia Twitter)
Lalit’s goal 24 hours later put the lessons learnt from the day before into perspective. Clearly, Reid’s words during the breaks and team meetings were having an effect.
It was for the first time in two matches that everything about an Indian attack looked in sync. There was understanding of the space, the passes were well-timed and short, and the boys never let their anticipation levels drop even when they had released the ball.
The off-the-ball running was as impressive as with the ball, which is why Lalit could anticipate the rebound off Vivaldi’s pads and position himself for a close-range tap. He found the narrow gate to the Argentine goalkeeper’s left on the near post.
That period of play resonated with Reid’s words on the first game.
“We showed patience and belief that if we keep doing the right things, we will do well,” Reid was heard saying on the broadcast when asked about his views on the first match. “Yesterday’s game was a good opportunity for us to show some fight. We did that.”
India had Sreejesh’s understudy Krishan Pathak to thank for keeping the Olympic champions on the mat in Sunday’s win. The first quarter saw the young custodian make back-to-back saves in his 50th international match.
“We were sleepy in the first quarter,” Reid admitted during the break.
Pathak’s heroics won him the ‘Player of the Match’ award, joining teammate Harmanpreet from a day earlier.
“I think we defended well,” said Pathak in his post-match comment on live broadcast, and he hit the nail on the head about India’s not-so-fluent midfield in the two matches.
Manpreet was off-colour for the most part, but showed glimpses of how his form can lift the team, especially when he earned the last-minute penalty corner in the first match that snatched a possible victory away from Argentina.

Vivek Sagar Prasad looked nippy in comparison to his skipper, but the team conceding turnovers from the mid-to-23-yard mark was a cause for worry.
“We have to work on a lot of things in defence and midfield,” added Pathak. “We will learn from these two games.”
The second game also saw defender Rupinderpal Singh benched to allow fellow veteran Birender Lakra to play. Rupinder looked patchy for the most part on Saturday, at times struggling to fall back at pace during turnovers. Lakra had a quiet game replacing Rupinder, but that’s the workman-like way he is known to play in, without getting noticed.
But it clearly suggests that the two defenders who have a spot confirmed for the Olympics so far are Surender Kumar and Harmanpreet Singh, even if the latter’s mistakes in defence over the weekend led to turnovers that could have proved costly. But Harmanpreet’s conversion rate on drag-flicks is much better at the moment compared to Rupinder and other back-up flickers Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas.

(Photo credit: @TheHockeyIndia Twitter)
Surender, meanwhile, looks like the most solid player while defending and clearing the lines.
Olympic champions Argentina, on the other hand, looked overworked with six games in eight days — two Pro League games each against Germany and India, with two practice games against the Indians in between.
But that takes nothing away from the Indian team which fired well and matched the sound of gunshot sounds resonating from the shooting range on the other side of the CeNARD sports complex.
The Indian team will continue to camp in Buenos Aires for two more practice matches, before travelling to London for their next away leg of the Pro League vs Great Britain — Covid permitting.

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