The Harmanpreet Singh-captained Indian men’s hockey team may have lost the five Test series 1-4 against Australia at Adelaide, but even their staunchest of critics cannot deny the fact that the Blueshirts dished up a performance that smacked off a ‘lot of hope’ ahead of the 2023 World Cup to be held in India in one month’s time.
Hockey Passion takes a deep dive into India’s 5 ‘Big Positives’ from the five Test series.
Eliminating the Fear of Failure
The Indian side appeared to have developed a ‘mental block’ or a bundle of nerves playing against Australia over many years – their 0-7 and 1-7 annihilation at the hands of the Kookaburras at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games bears testimony to that. There was a line of thought that India would press the ‘jittery’ button playing against Australia, but the five Test series gave ample indications that the Indian outfit no longer gets intimidated by the ‘might’ of the Aussies. What was so refreshing to see was that the national side played without ‘fear of losing’ and took the fight to the opposition – even when Australia were ahead of India scoreline-wise, India never for once gave an impression that they had resigned themselves to their fate and kept coming hard at Australia – at the end of the day they fought hard and can take pride even from their 1-4 Test series ‘loss’. To cite an example, the goal of Hardeep Singh in the 2nd Test tells you something – the manner in which he produced a ‘smart steal’ off Josh Beltz almost like forcing a schoolboyish howler from a lesser hockey nation and slammed home showed that this Indian team can give the best in the business a run for their money.
Distinct Improvement in Indirect Penalty Corner Variations
One area where India upped their game is scoring goals off indirect short corners. It was great to see Mohammed Raheel deflecting home a Harmanpreet Singh penalty corner in the second Test. Equally impressive was Abhishek scoring an indirectly-taken Hamranpreet Singh shortie showing his alertnesss near the opposition goalpost. Perhaps the best indirect PC goal was from Shamsher Singh, who injected the ball during the PC routine and rushed to be near the Australian goalpost and slotted home a rebound after Jugraj Singh’s initial PC effort was initially foiled by the Aussie goalkeeper. Even in the opening Test match Raj Kumar Pal struggled with the PC trapping but quickly retrieved the ball and played it to Harmanpreet Singh, who rifled in a goal-scoring drag-flick from inside the ‘D’ not exactly from the top of the ‘D’.
Goalkeeping of Sreejesh
PR Sreejesh has continued to thrive despite not getting any younger – the proven performer has attracted a lot of flak after he went off the boil during the four Pro Leagu games against Spain and New Zealand – his performance was castigated on social media with many suggesting that he should pack his bags and call time on his international career. Hockey can be a great leveller and Sreejesh showed that during the five Test series against Australia.
The Kerala man was at his best, especially in the third Test – there was a phase of play in the second quarter (22nd minute of play) when Sreejesh frustrated the Aussies to no end, repulsing their attacks, including thwarting five consecutive shot attempts – in the second Test one saw how Sreejesh foiled four back-to-back shorties from Australia and of course he received solid support from his deep defenders. The goalkeeping form of Sreejesh is a big plus for India going into the 2023 World Cup.
Captain Leading from the Front
Harmanpreet Singh was exceptional in the five Test series against Australia – the 26-year-old fullback not only handled the captaincy responsibility with aplomb but also made meaningful contributions to the side. As a premier drag-flicker in the side, the Punjab lad scored in every match and posed a constant threat for the Kookaburras everytime India earned a PC. He is not just a conventional defender who would restrict himself to operating in his own half, but one who won’t mind overlapping upfront for the team’s cause. How can one forget Harmanpreet’s overlapping run from the right and the subsequent well-thought-out long diagonal pass to Akashdeep Singh that enabled the latter to complete a superb hat-trick in the first Test even as his tap-in grazed the stick of Jeremy Hayward and rolled in.
Akashdeep Dazzling in his New Forward Avatar
Akashdeep Singh has always been a natural forward, who likes to create goal-scoring opportunities as well as score goals but under coach Graham Reid, he has been deployed as a midfielder in the Pro League, Asia Cup and the Commonwealth Games.
The injury to Lalit Kumar Upadhyay was probably an ‘opportunity’ for Akashdeep to operate in the forwardline for the Test series against Australia.
The 28-year-old, who set the hockey tongues wagging when he not included for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, put up a statement-making performance, scoring a sizzling hat-trick in the opening Test where India could have easily settled for a 4-4 draw until Australia won a shortie with ‘just four seconds to go’ and Blake Govers ‘played the spoiler’ converting it to take out a 5-4 win.
Akashdeep’s first goal was a beauty – it was Akashdeep who first intercepted Aran Zaleskwi in the Aussie half and orchestrated a fine move and with support from Manpreet Singh and Dilpreet Singh unleashed a goal-scoring tomahawk – he exuded his tomahawk proficiency when he belted home a backhander off a Sukhjeet Singh for his second goal and then made the most of a long diagonal pass from Harmanpreet Singh to flick home that touched the stick of an Aussie player and rolled in. Akashdeep must have ‘derived maximum satisfaction’ when he scored India’s match-winner in the third Test after being beautifully set up by Mandeep Singh.