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Interview: There is plenty of room for improvement in Indian hockey, says Birendra Lakra

The Odisha native spoke about his performance at the Hockey World League and working on his game ahead of the Hockey India League.

Birendra Lakra Hockey India 2015
Lakra starred in India’s medal-winning tie at the Hockey World League finals

Birendra Lakra was the one of the finds of India’s bronze medal performance at the recent Hockey World League Final Round in Raipur. The Odisha lad marshalled the Indian defence with aplomb and outstanding when he moved up to help the frontline.

Lakra, who started off as a forward before switching to his fullback role, has his feet firmly planted on the ground and is keen to put in the hard yards ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The talented defender, who is playing for Ranchi Rays in the 2016 Coal India Hockey India League, spoke about his game and much more in an exclusive interview.

Excerpts:

You must be pretty happy to spend some quality time with your family members after the Hockey World League Final Round.

Absolutely! I celebrated Christmas with my family and close relatives. I remain busy most of the time either training at national camps or playing in tournaments and given this, this was a good break for me.

Would you rate India’s recent win over the Netherlands the biggest win of your playing career?

I won’t call it that way – it was a big win no doubt. I think we needed to close out that game after leading 5-3 – we should not have conceded those two late goals but definitely beating the world number two side was hugely satisfying.

You started your early days in hockey as a forward and now you are playing as a defender.

I used to play as a forward in my initial days as a forward but then played as right-half and now as a fullback. It’s all about adapting oneself as per the needs of the team.

You really came to the party at the Hockey World League Final Round in Raipur.

I tried to do my best for my country and whenever the team benefits from my efforts, there is always a good feeling. I have a lot of room for improvement as it is always a learning process.

It is seen that our defenders tend to carry the ball in the ‘D’ – how do you think can be done to rectify the issue?

Look, a lot of things depend on the situation and from outside the pitch it may appear easy. I feel that timing your jump to avoid a rival player’s hit inside ‘D’ is never easy. I don’t think getting hit on the foot is a big concern.

How do you assess India’s Olympic chances?

I think we need to work hard in the next six months and the way the team is performing over the last one year or so there is every reason to believe that we can come up with a strong performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

You will be turning out for Ranchi Rays in the 2016 Coal India Hockey India League. Are you hoping for a hat-trick of title wins?

We have a fairly balanced side. All of our six retained players – me, Manpreet, Kothajit, Barry Middleton, Ashley Jackson and Fergus Kavanagh have a great coordination going and we will be strong contenders in the 2016 edition.

Indian defence have shown massive improvement in recent years. Your thoughts.

We guys – me, Raghunath, Rupinder and Kothajit have been playing together for a long while and there is a great deal of understanding among us. You have to understand that defence starts with the first line and it is not just the fullbacks who defend.

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