"Chris (Ciriello) cooked a sumptuous meal. It was really good and we all enjoyed it a lot," reveals former India hockey captain Manpreet Singh.
It has been two months since the disappointing outing in Gold Coast and now, the Indian men's team is headed for Breda to take part in what happens to be the last edition of the Champions Trophy.
A lot has happened in between.
From the infamous coach swap to analytical coach Chris Ciriello showing his culinary skills and cooking for the team (which Manpreet self-admittedly enjoyed) – Indian hockey has been in the news.
Manpreet, though, knows that he and his teammates cannot be perturbed by the off-field issues. "We just have to concentrate on our game and do our best in Breda," he says.
With Australia, Belgium, Argentina, Holland, and Pakistan in the fray, an acid test lies in front of India; the challenge is much stiffer. However, the 25-year-old midfielder does not feel any pressure. In fact, he believes that tougher challenges only bring out the best in one, and subsequently, they are much more enjoyable.
"No, I don't feel any such pressure. I enjoy challenges, all kinds of them. If the opposition is stronger, I enjoy more," he says before adding, "And this time, of course, Sardar Singh is there in the team. I have been playing with him for some time, and we have a good understanding. I think it will benefit the team."
Asked about Sardar's role as a senior in the team, Manpreet opens up about the seasoned campaigner who is set to make his 300th international appearance in Breda.
He says, "Sardar is very experienced, he is always calm on the field...he is always motivating everyone in the team, whether it is a senior player or a junior. See, on the field, no one is a senior or a junior. On the field, everyone is equal and everyone is playing for India and they all want to give their best."
'Converting goal-scoring opportunities will be vital'
What is important is that the team does not make the same mistakes that they committed at the Commonwealth Games. While SV Sunil had previously conceded that a bit of complacency had seeped in, according to Manpreet, the team could not make good of the scoring chances that came through.
"In Gold Coast, we missed quite a few scoring opportunities which our opponents capitalised," Manpreet, who was the captain at the Commonwealth Games, reflects.
"Also, our PC conversion was not up to the mark. So, we have given extra attention to that. It is important for us to convert as many goal-scoring chances as possible... against good sides, you only get so many chances," he adds.
While Manpreet stressed on the importance of scoring from as many chances as possible, India's forward line has taken a hit just before the team left for the Netherlands. Forwards Akashdeep Singh and Sumit were forced out with injuries and in their place, Lalit Upadhyaya and Simranjeet boarded the flight.
Both Lalit and Simranjeet are able replacements, as they have shown in the past; they have the skill and temperament to perform at the biggest stages. However, one cannot disagree with the fact that Akashdeep will be missed.
Even Ramandeep Singh, who had said that Sunil, Akashdeep, Mandeep and himself, coalesce seamlessly to form a fearsome foursome, knows it. "Akasheep hota toh achcha hota. Phir bhi poori zor lagaa denge," he rues. (If we had Akashdeep, it would have been great. Nevertheless, we will give our all.)
It doesn't take a psychic to tell that Ramandeep likes combining with Akashdeep. Indeed, the two have forged a formidable partnership up front. However, Ramandeep still promises to give it his all and hopes to combine well with Simranjeet as well.
Perhaps, it is too early to tell just how much Akashdeep's absence will hurt India's chances but the goal has been set and there cannot be any more lapses. India begin their campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan on 23rd June, and they simply cannot dwell on the past anymore or, for that matter, afford to take any half measures.
As Manpreet says before hurrying off, "The aim is to finish on the podium. We cannot underestimate any team. All the teams are very strong and no match will be easy. We cannot relax."Published 20 Jun 2018, 10:00 IST