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'When we play with the Indian tempo, we can beat any team in the world,' says Graham Reid [Exclusive]

The Indians will improve even more in time for Tokyo feels the coach
The Indians will improve even more in time for Tokyo feels the coach
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 19 Feb 2020
Exclusive

Following the launch of the inaugural edition of the Pro League last year, Indian fans watched in awe as the best hockey teams around the world travelled across continents and crossed swords with the weekend action bringing in the crowds from Valencia to Buenos Aires.

That their team weren't part of the action did not seem to matter to hockey buffs in India who remained engrossed in the action from January until June with the fervent hope that Manpreet Singh and co. would weave their magic in the second edition of the tournament.

Much to the delight of home fans, the Pro League 2020 began in India with the hosts beating the mighty Dutch by a 5-2 margin at the Kalinga Stadium before winning the shootout against Max Caldas' team in the second encounter.

The Indians then beat World and European champions Belgium by a 2-1 margin in the first match of the double-header before going down 2-3 in the second.

For a team that had not played much competitive hockey against the top sides last year, it was a dream result, but not one that surprised coach Graham Reid who remains as grounded as ever despite the euphoria surrounding the buoyant start.

In an exclusive and in-depth interaction with Sportskeeda, the Chief Coach of the Indian men's hockey team analyzes the Pro League results, shares his vision for the side and declares emphatically that he is thoroughly enjoying his India stint to the fullest.

Reid looks back at the Pro League matches against Belgium and reckons that the Indians played better in the second match which they eventually lost while the goalkeepers saved the day in the first.

If you look behind the results we gave away too many opportunities against Belgium and so we need to tighten our defence and that is what we have been focussing on.
We have a different way of analysing different numbers and when you look at the numbers after those two games, the performance in the second game was far better even though the scoreline doesn't say that - and that's the thing about the funny hockey game that we play.
It also tells me that Sunday's performance was a repeatable one - we can go out there and play in the manner we did again - it was, definitely, the kind of performance that we can deliver more consistently.
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Saturday's performance was more about relying on the brilliance of two players and then making some mistakes in front of goal.
On Sunday, we created lots of opportunities - even more than Belgium did - that's the kind of performance I am happier with.
When we play with that Indian tempo we can beat any team in the world, but when we look behind the results I feel there are opportunities and we do need to tighten up in defence.
The team now have a 4-man PC battery
The team now have a 4-man PC battery

"Converting short corners now getting tougher"

Varun Kumar has now returned to the team as a result of which the Indians now have a 4-man PC battery. While having quality drag-flickers in the side is a distinct advantage, Reid opined that converting PCs is now becoming tougher than ever before.

It's always great to have such quality drag-flickers in the side, and so what it does is that it makes it harder for other teams to counter us by running us down.
What you're seeing, though, in the Pro League and during the World Cup, as well, is that it's getting harder to score short corner goals with PC defenders and rushers getting braver - so, we have to keep doing different variations.
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My experience says that the simpler the PC is - the higher the chance of scoring. When we have the kind of high-quality drag-flickers that we do we always believe that the next one is going to go in - so we may not do a variation when we should.

The Indians have a host of options up front and the think-tank is not shying away from trying new combinations, but the results have been mixed, thus far, as the Aussie veteran explained.

In the Pro League opener against the Dutch, the Indians earned 7 PCs and fired 13 shots on target off 29 circle entries and did just as well in the second match managing to direct 16 shots on target and earning 4 PCs off 21 circle entries which Reid was pleased with.

One of the standouts in the Dutch game was that we managed both (earning lots of PC options and field goal options) off the circle entries, so that's definitely a positive but there were also games where that did not quite happen.
As a coach, I am always looking for better returns from our circle entries and so we have been working on this aspect. We also have world-class PC flickers so we have two things up our sleeves from our point of view of scoring goals.

"Everyone in the squad gets better when there is internal competition"

With newcomers like Raj Kumar Pal coming through and displaying their prowess against the best sides in the world, the internal competition for places gets ever more intense which will improve the overall quality of the team in time for Tokyo Olympics 2020 feels the coach.

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My experience has been that creating a competitive environment before an Olympics or a World Cup means that the boys are pushing each other - and what happens when we create that competitive environment is that everyone in the squad gets better.
That is the objective behind it - playing together a number of times every week makes them know each other's game inside out.

Belgian coach Shane McLeod had reckoned that his team had not peaked yet - and Reid was just as emphatic that the Indians too will improve before the all-important Olympic Games begin.

Shane did say that it was not the finished product yet - he was talking about Belgium, but if you asked every coach, then that is what they would tell you. We need to get better and better and that's what I have been saying from day one, from the time I have been here.
Every session is an opportunity to improve and learn something better and we need to take and retain that in between now and Tokyo.

Ten successful months in India have also been happy ones for Reid who felt humbled by what he experienced in the country.

My wife and I, we were talking about it the other day that we love it here in India and that we are enjoying the journey that we are on. I always tell the players that we cannot change what just happened but you can change how you approach the next task that you have.
The people in India are lovely and I have been very humbled by some of the things that I have seen here and the people we have met.
Published 19 Feb 2020, 15:11 IST
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