Hardik Singh aims for consistency in big matches at Asian Games

M SudharshanM Sudharshan

September 11 2023
Hardik Singh
(Courtesy : Hockey India)

The midfielder also spoke about overcoming a dark phase in his career and more.

Indian men’s hockey team is geared up to take part in the all-important Hangzhou Asian Games 2023. What makes the Continental Games more special is that the winner secures a direct entry for Paris Olympics 2024. In the previous edition, India settled for bronze and will be rearing to make a mark in the upcoming edition. Ahead of the mega event, Khel Now got an opportunity to converse with vice-captain Hardik Singh who has been one of team’s central figure in the midfield position.

Hardik Singh, 24, made his India debut in 2018 and since then he has been a vital cog in the setup. He was part of the bronze medal winning team at Tokyo Olympics and his solo goal against Great Britain was one of the moments to watch out for in the entire event.

Preparations ahead of Asian Games

Ahead of the Asian Games, India played in two successive tournaments – tour of Spain and then the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai. The blue colts emerged victorious in the latter by winning against a formidable Malaysian side (4-3) in the final.

Hardik Singh said, “The preparations ahead of the Continental Games has been good. The previous two tournaments — tour to Spain and Asian Champions Trophy has helped us understand our strengths and weakness. Moreover, we have understood where to work on and get better. Consistency plays a vital role in big events, and we are also looking to play consistently — particularly when we reach the semifinals and final.”

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Role playing in midfield

“I divide my game into phases – game tempo (which needs to be in our favour) and turnovers in own half. So, my main task is to play simple hockey in the own half and keep my mind processed before the match as to which areas to pass. The team has been training in Bangalore for a long time and the teammates are well aware to the fact that if I stop at one place, they get to their position in the forward half swiftly. Coordination plays a vital role in team sport.

Difference in gameplay post Craig Fulton’s takeover

Craig Fulton Asian Champions Trophy 2023
Under Fulton, India have relied more on counterattacks (Courtesy: Hockey India)

Craig Fulton took over the reigns from Graham Reid in March earlier this year. The coach predominantly prefers counter attacking play and on the contrary Reid used the attacking play.

“Yes, there has been few changes in the gameplay. The current coach gives equal weightage to small information and nuances of the game. In certain situations, if there arises a 2vs1 situation then the player needs to be selfish. If you aren’t passing the ball at first instance, then you have to go past the opposition and then make a pass.

“These small nuances of gameplay is being taken care of. Sometimes we cannot always attack rather there will be times where we tire the opposition and then enter their D. My mindset has changed under Craig with him bringing in his style of play, I have to adopt to it wholeheartedly for the benefit of the team.”

Comeback after getting injured at World Cup

Hardik Singh scored a solo goal against Spain in the group stages of the World Cup and created ample chances for the forwards to hit field goals. But an unfortunate injury sidelined him for the rest of the tournament and India also suffered a shock exit to New Zealand in the pre-quarterfinals.

The midfielder recalled, “I think that was the dark phase in my career as I had been working hard for the past four years to play in the World Cup. Prior to the tournament, I knew I was completely prepared. And then to get injured at the important juncture, I got exhausted as the hard work I put in the past four years was completely destroyed in just few seconds.

“Still, I stayed with the team for the remainder of the World Cup and helped them stay positive. If the team wins the final then my name will also get included so my main motive was to encourage the team in any capacity I could. Injuries are common in any athlete’s career and I needed to move on and get better with the game.”

Teams talk after trailing at halftime in Asian Champions Trophy final

India after scoring an early goal against Malaysia in the final, but had a poor ending to the first half as they conceded three successive goals. After the mid-game break, India came out all guns blazing and attacked from the start of the third quarter.

“Deep down going into the game, all we needed was just one goal to get back. My message to the team was to stay calm and steady and there will be few chances for us to score goals. The tempo of the game needed to be controlled and if done, we will automatically get back and start scoring freely either through field goals or penalty corners.

“The final has helped us a lot in terms of preparing for the Asian Games. If suppose, we trail in the similar fashion in the semifinals of Asian Games then we now know what needs to be done as we have been in the similar situation few weeks back.”

Importance of mental conditioning coach

“Paddy Upton is a very experienced coach having guided the Indian Cricket team to World Cup triumph in 2011. Till date I have had two to three sessions with him and it has been helpful. Initially, I used to think that there isn’t any requirement of any trainer but ever since he joined my mind has changed and now I feel he needs to stay and guide the team.

“The teams bonding has got better in the past few months, and we are opening up with one another. For India to be a champion team, we need to help each other. As in, if I don’t play well on a particular day, then my teammate needs to step in and fill in the hole. These small details of team bond and other stuff help us build and ultimately become a champion team.”

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