FIH Series Finals: "We will treat Russia much the same way as we treat Australia," says Graham Reid after the team announcement
Graham Reid was part of the near-invincible Australian team of the 1980s which included greats like Terry Walsh, Peter Haselhurst, and the redoubtable Ric Charlesworth.
The Queenslander was a part of the formidable side that won four Champions Trophy gold medals before capturing silver at Barcelona 1992, and went on to take over the reins of an equally indomitable Aussie outfit after master coach Charlesworth decided to call it a day.
Reid also spent a substantial amount of time coaching in the Netherlands before he moved to India last month - so how does the veteran compare the Aussie, Dutch, and Indian styles?
More importantly, what are the unique challenges that he foresees in the Indian context?
"What I have discovered is that Australian skills are different from Dutch skills, and again Indian skills are different too - not that one is better than the other, but it's just that the skills are different," he said.
"With the Indian team, we need to try and work out the kind of skills that these guys have and incorporate them into the modern game. The game is also a lot more physical now and, over the last three or four years, the Indians have been working towards getting stronger - and this is one aspect that we will continue to keep working on.
"Some of the skills that the Indian players have are unbelievable but they are different to the Australians and the Dutch," he added.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda following the announcement of the team for the FIH Series Finals, Graham Reid analyzed the recent Aussie tour, shed light on the conclusions which he reached following his research on shootouts, and explained why Ramandeep failed to take the flight to Australia, but is ready for the Bhubaneswar battle.
The agony and the ecstasy: Ramandeep's Breda nightmare
It was a moment of sheer ecstasy for comeback-man Ramandeep Singh who opened the scoring for his side against arch-rivals Pakistan at the Champions Trophy in Breda last June.
The ace striker also set up Lalit Upadhyay, who scored at the death, after making the most of Oltmans' move to bolster the attack by taking goalie Imran Butt off. But he trudged off the pitch in pain as his teammates celebrated a hard-fought 4-0 win over their arch-rivals.
Scans picked up a chondral fracture and a distraught Ramandeep was flown back to India where he underwent surgery, which was followed by a long and painstakingly slow rehab process which rendered him incapable of being considered for the prestigious World Cup last December.
An encouraging show in the Senior Nationals led to Ramandeep regaining his place in the national camp ahead of the Azlan Shah Cup but the forward from Jalandhar failed to make it to the team bound for Ipoh, and also did not figure amongst the Indians who toured Australia in mid-May.
Yet, much to the joy of Indian hockey fans, Ramandeep will indeed be in action at Bhubaneswar as coach Reid explained.
"Ramandeep was in the rehab group, however, the team for Australia was picked three or four weeks in advance of the actual tour, so he was not ready at that particular time.
"He has been working hard since then, and when we were in Australia, he was in Bangalore. He has worked very hard on his fitness and his match-play well. He played two or three games against the Indian juniors and I think he is ready."
Ramandeep told Sportskeeda that he was thankful to all of those who had lent a helping hand.
"I have managed to come back from a really big injury yet again. The rehab program which was instituted by Hockey India in collaboration with SAI really helped me to regain my fitness and I would like to thank all the coaches, physios, and players who assisted me during the course of my recovery process.
"I am really excited to play the FIH Series Finals and am looking forward to giving my very best during the course of the tournament."
Some players were unlucky to not have been selected: Reid
Lalit Upadhyay is also on the injury list and Karnataka livewire SV Sunil has failed to find a place in the side as a result of which the tried-and-test trio of Mandeep, Akashdeep, and Ramandeep will look to combine well with Simranjeet and Gursahibjit Singh.
The Chief Coach made no secret of the fact that it was tough to leave certain players out but that the group as a whole exemplified a lot of power.
"There are lots of players who are on the borderline in this team and to me, that's the power of this group and that allows you to be able to choose a team that you are happy with," he said.
"There is a group who will consider themselves to be very unlucky not to have been selected.
"When I was with the Australian team for nine years, we had exactly the same situation where you were happy with who you selected, but you could easily have selected a few more.
"We always ensure that we work with the players one-on-one for them to understand why they have not been selected and also the things they need to do to get back into the team," he explained.
Reid lauded the training facilities at the SAI campus in Bangalore and stressed that in spite of the losses to the Kookaburras during the Aussie tour, the Indians have been strongly refocussing on the precise areas that they need to work on.
"The facilities in Bangalore are world class for a centralized training environment. We then went to Australia where we had some mixed results. My takeaways from Australia revolved around trying to understand where we are as compared to teams like Belgium, Australia and Holland.
"The focus after that tour is understanding that, that is the level we need to be at and what we need to do to get there.
"What I really enjoyed is that since the Australian tour, we have focussed on areas that we need to improve like goalscoring, strong receiving, tackling, and PCs, and I have seen a definite refocus if you like.
"I know people like to talk about outcomes and winning and losing, but for me, the way that you get better is that you focus on the process."
Graham Reid was the coach of the Aussie side that beat a brave Indian bunch in the shootout of the 2016 Champions Trophy final. Quite inexplicably, history was repeated, yet again, when a similar result ensued in the Breda edition of the same tournament last year.
The Indians also lost the Asian Games semifinal to Malaysia after a fateful shootout in Jakarta.
Reid's shootout study: "No particular team leading in this regard"
Reid, who was the assistant to Max Caldas in the Dutch team, did some homework on the subject of shootouts which has baffled many a hockey pundit around the world. Are the results of shootouts dependent purely on chance or can they be practised and improved?
In the ongoing FIH Pro League, the Spanish Red Sticks, who are yet to win a match outright, have, nonetheless, accumulated ten points from as many encounters thanks to five shootout bonus points, which, as per the results of the study, appear to be an aberration.
"My last couple of months with the Dutch team, I did a study on shootouts. In all the shootouts that have happened since 2014, there is no particular team that is leading in this regard - except, of course, Spain, who have won five consecutive shootouts. (In the FIH Pro League)," he elaborated.
"I do not think there is any clear message as to how you practise shootouts and how you get better at them."
Foreign mentors do need time to familiarize themselves with the local set-up but in Reid's case, assistance was near at hand in the form of former ward Chris Ciriello, India's Analytical Coach, who ensured a smooth transition.
"Chris used to play under me. So, of course it has been a nice transition, and we are pressing on the things that we did with the Australians, which includes stronger receiving and creating as many opportunities as we can, and finishing them off.
"We are also focussing on our pressing game of course. We like to play with a high press that puts pressure on the opposition."
"Will treat Russia much the same way as we treat Australia"
The Indians are placed alongside Russia, Poland and Uzbekistan in Pool A of the FIH Series Finals, and might well run into Japan or South Africa in the semifinals, provided there are no upsets in Pool B which also consists of Mexico and the USA.
The Indians did struggle a bit against Japan in the Asian Champions Trophy semifinal last year but beat South Africa convincingly at the Odisha World Cup.
So is Reid confident of his wards sailing into the final at the Kalinga Stadium?
"The format that operates in these tournaments is always very difficult as it makes every game important. We will ensure that every game is treated the same as the other.
"Our first game is against Russia and we do not know too much about Russia. We are treating them as we would treat Australia, I guarantee that."
The towering Rupinder, who missed the World Cup, will be back in action for India in the vital tournament which, in effect, is the first phase of the Olympic qualifiers, and hope that his partnership with long-time compatriot Harmanpreet will strengthen India's defence and the short corner department as well.
Goalkeepers: Krishan B Pathak, PR Sreejesh
Defenders: Rupinder Pal Singh, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra (Vice-Captain), Gurinder Singh, Amit Rohidas
Midfielders: Hardik Singh, Manpreet Singh (Captain), Sumit, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Nilakanta Sharma
Forwards: Mandeep Singh, Gursahibjit Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Simranjit Singh, Ramandeep Singh