Champions Trophy Hockey 2018: 'Give us your support, and we will deliver results,' says Harmanpreet Singh to Indian hockey fans
Contrary to expectations, not many PCs have been converted thus far in the Champions Trophy at Breda. A few teams have struggled with a dry pitch at one end of the ground which makes it difficult to inject and stop the ball cleanly. Others, however, seem to lack the personnel who are skilled enough to find the back of the net via drag-flicks consistently enough.
Even the best of teams like Australia and Netherlands are less proficient in the PC department now -- without Chris Ciriello or Mink Van der Weerden to fire them in. A total of 48 goals have been scored in 12 matches played thus far in the Champions Trophy out of which only 14 have resulted from penalty corners.
As expected, Argentina's Gonzalo Peillat leads the pack of PC scorers with 3 goals. Giving the master company at the top with an equal number of PC goals is a player 3 years his junior -- Harmanpreet -- who belongs to a country which cannot boast of very many world-class drag-flickers.
Against the Olympic champions, he scored before Gonzalo Peillat did to give India a crucial lead, while World Champions Australia too were shaken at the death by the same player at Breda.
Against the Olympic silver-medalists, the lad from Amritsar found the mark in the first quarter itself and his goal was the only difference between the two sides up until the 59th minute when Luypaert restored parity for the Red Lions.
As a young rookie, he made his mark early to become the highest scorer of the Junior Asia Cup in 2015 scoring a total of 15 goals including 4 in the final against Pakistan.
'Celebrations can happen after the match'
While the stocky drag-flicker is lethal in the opposition circle, as a defender, he is the very epitome of serenity and composure in his own circle.
Never does Harmanpreet Singh smile after scoring. While his fellow teammates exchange high-fives and give him a congratulatory pat on the back, he walks away furiously as ever with fists clutched.
"I do not like to lose focus in between a match," says the 22-year-old from Punjab who is now the mainstay of India's defense and is well on his way to becoming one of the best Indian drag-flickers ever. "Celebrations can happen after the match but during the match, it is important to stay focused until the end. Even after scoring, we should never forget that the match is not over yet. The smiles can always wait until after the match."
A resurgent Indian side has put the debacle at Gold Coast behind them and now look a lot more formidable than their higher-ranked counterparts at Breda.
Sportskeeda had an exclusive chat in which Harmanpreet Singh described to us how tough it is to be a drag-flicker, how his mentors Chris Ciriello and Jugraj Singh have helped him develop, and why using up too many variations can be detrimental in the long run. Here are the excerpts:
Sportskeeda: A former coach of yours had suggested that you have the potential to be one of the best drag-flickers in the world. How do you feel you have developed as a player from a junior to a senior in terms of confidence and skill?
Harmanpreet: Individually, I feel more confident than before because as we play more matches, confidence grows. Practice is the key for a drag-flicker to improve. Workouts are also important. Drag-flicking is hard work. There are separate sessions that are conducted only for drag-flickers and sometimes we have individual practice sessions as well. Just the routine itself is very tough and needs a lot of focus and dedication.
Whether or not I will become a great drag-flicker will be known later but right now I am a lot more interested in focussing on my game.
Sportskeeda: How tough is it to get back your confidence after you have missed let's say three or more flicks in a row? Who helps you the most?
Harmanpreet: Missing the mark is part of the game. In crucial situations, sometimes we are unable to convert PCs. There are times when we can convert a few and at other times it is difficult to do so.
I never get disappointed. In fact, if I miss, I feel happy because I then get a chance to learn where I am going wrong and what improvements are needed.
Jugraj Singh (Assistant Coach) and Chris Ciriello (Analytical Coach) have both taught me a lot. It is not only the training with flicks but just having a chat with them gives me confidence as they teach me how to convert PCs in crunch situations and under pressure.
'Variations should be saved for later'
Sportskeeda: At Gold Coast, we didn't see very many variations in our PCs. Was there a reason for that?
Harmanpreet: If we are able to convert PCs with direct flicks and the coaches too are confident of the same, it is better to go ahead with them. We did use a few variations (at Gold Coast) and we were successful too. Variations cannot all be used up at once. It is always better to save variations for later and for upcoming tournaments.
In the meetings before a match, we decide on strategies and how we plan to take the first couple of PCs. The same goes for defending PCs as well.
Sportskeeda: Do you sometimes feel pressure as you are the number one drag-flicker for the team and there is immense responsibility on your shoulders as a defender too?
Harmanpreet: All the goals that we score are the result of a team effort and the entire team has to be involved. Opponents are now developing good defensive structures to counter our PCs. We watch a lot of video clips as part of our training which is a great learning experience for us.
I do not feel any pressure. Amit and Varun are coming up very well and they are equally good like me as far as drag-flicks are concerned. As a defender too, I have a very good understanding with Amit Rohidas and all the other defenders as we have played several international matches together. We will miss Rupinder but he is undergoing a process of recovery.
Sportskeeda: India struggled at the Gold Coast against lower-ranked teams like Wales and Pakistan. What would your message be for skeptical fans who would ask how the same team will now match up against the top four in the world?
Harmanpreet: We are extremely confident and we have been working extremely hard on areas like finishing, scoring, defense, and man-to-man marking. We have gym sessions that focus on agility and strength training. We also have team meetings, individual meetings, defender meetings, and video sessions.
Our fans need to have confidence in us. We play for the country and it is our duty to do our best and get medals home. So, my message to Indian hockey fans will be to support us and of course, we will deliver good results.