Chris Ciriello has imbibed in us the Aussie mentality of winning at any cost: India hockey captain Manpreet Singh ahead of CWG
As the morning sun shimmers on the sky blue turf at the Sports Authority of India complex in Bangalore, the Indian hockey team go through an intense training session. Various strategies are being put into practice under the watchful eye of coach Sjoerd Marijne. The coach's voice rings out loud and clear, resonating far and wide amidst the serene surroundings.
Analytical coach, Chris Ciriello is there too, observing the proceedings keenly and passing on inputs to Marijne. The drills are just as intense as they are fluent. The team look relaxed, fit, and raring to go. As the session ends and the players lie on the turf for a much-needed break, Sportskeeda catches up with the captain of the Indian hockey team, Manpreet Singh.
Soft exterior hides steely interior
Affable, down-to-earth and unassuming, Manpreet Singh is not the archetypal skipper who rules with an iron fist. As he jokes with the rest of his troops with a smile that never fades, he looks more like a member of the happy unit and less like its patriarch.
Make no mistake, however. Beneath the jovial exterior lies a serious and focused individual whose most vital preoccupation is the success and welfare of his team.
Sportskeeda: Manpreet, you last played in the Hockey World League Final (last December) and then in the Four-Nations tournament in New Zealand in January. Has the break helped you?
Manpreet Singh: Honestly, no athlete likes to take a break. We are asked to rest in order to relax our bodies. I had not had a break for a long time (before the Hockey World League Final) and so the coaches decided to give me some rest. Playing tournaments continuously do result in mental stress. The break has helped as I am now fresh for the Commonwealth Games and excited too.
Sportskeeda: You played the CWG final in 2014 where India lost to Australia. Chris Ciriello scored a hat-trick for Australia in that match. The PC expert is now in the Indian camp. How has he helped the team with regard to drag flicking skills?
Manpreet Singh: Firstly, Chris Ciriello is not with us just to share his expertise with drag flicks. He is assisting each and every player in the team. He is a great motivator. He is an Australian and carries with him the Aussie mentality of winning everything and at any cost.
We have spent a month with him. His philosophy is simple. It is to play to win and never think of losing. He teaches us to motivate each other and to be positive. He has helped all the players and personally has been of great assistance to me. His presence will help us in the CWG.
Sportskeeda: Manpreet, last year we beat Pakistan four times. Twice in the HWL and twice in the Asia Cup. India will play their opener against Pakistan and your previous coach, Roelant Oltmans is now coaching Pakistan. Do you think that will change things or do you feel you can continue your dominance?
Manpreet Singh: We do not underestimate any team. The CWG is a very big event. Every team in the competition will give their best. Our aim is to play our best game throughout the tournament. The only aim in the opener against Pakistan is to stay focused and execute our game plan.
Sportskeeda: We will also be playing against England, Malaysia, Canada, and Wales. Do you think you can beat all of them and top the pool? If you don't top the pool, you may end up meeting Australia in the semi-finals.
Manpreet Singh: We are not focused on what will happen at the end of the pool stage. We will take it one match at a time. Presently, we are focused on the first match against Pakistan. Following that, we will focus on the other matches. That is our coach's mantra as well. We will play each match to win and give our best.
Sportskeeda: Manpreet, you are now the captain of the team. Is there any added pressure because of this or do you take it in your stride?
Manpreet Singh: I don't think of myself as a captain. We are all a family here. We share our problems with each other. We stay together. I have never felt any pressure. There are lots of good players in the team. Rupinder Pal Singh, SV Sunil, Sreejesh, and Chinglensana are all senior and also very good. They always stand by me and have never let me down.
Sportskeeda: We have heard that you were the prankster in the team. Now, that you are the captain of the team, who among the juniors has taken over your role as the main prankster?
Manpreet Singh: (Laughs) I was a prankster before and still am. It makes no difference that I am the captain. I am the captain on the ground but otherwise we are family and jokes and pranks help us bond. The youngsters, Mandeep (Singh), Vivek (Sagar Prasad), and Varun Kumar are a lot of fun and we share a lot of bonhomie.
Sportskeeda: A long season of hockey awaits you this year. Following the CWG is the Champions Trophy and the season will end with the World Cup. How taxing will it be and what inputs are provided by your physical trainers?
Manpreet Singh: I was rested for the Azlan Shah Cup. Our primary focus was the CWG. After this, the Champions Trophy will be at the end of June so there is a gap. Players will be rested based on who needs a rest as it is indeed a very long season this year. There is also the Asian Games and the Asian Champions Trophy. We have to be at our absolute best in terms of fitness.