The year 2014 has been a pretty hectic one for the Indian men’s hockey team, with the upcoming Incheon Asian Games the fourth high-profile event during this period. With the selectors and think tank loath to make too many changes to the playing personnel, the stress on the core players in the side has been tremendous.
After the Hockey World League Final at the start of the year, they played at the World and Commonwealth Games within a relatively short time frame. Forward S V Sunil is one of the key players who have been a fixture in the side.
As the team prepares for the continental challenge, he admits that the tough schedule is hard on the body, but said the players knew when to push hard and when to take the foot off the pedal.
“At the World Cup, we needed to be at the top level, but there were some easier matches at the Commonwealth Games. Fitness in hockey keeps fluctuating. But we got a nine-day break after Glasgow, and are in the best possible shape for the Asian Games,” Sunil said after a training session on Wednesday.
“Injuries and fatigue can strike at any time, but we take due care of recovery and relaxation with swimming one of the key exercises.” The same bunch of players taking the field continuously may not be an ideal situation, but Sunil feels it can work both ways. The Asiad squad is exactly the same as the one which went to Glasgow.
“If one is 100 per cent fit, it could be an advantage. Modern hockey is so fast that one cannot hide injuries. If one can’t play at full speed, one will be letting the team down,” he said.
“Our combinations have been well set by now. There is proper understanding among the forwards, as well as between forwards and midfielders. During the camp, we had team meetings every two days where we discussed where we went wrong and what we need to do.”
India have played several top teams in the last few months, and Sunil felt that experience will hold them in good stead in Incheon. “Pakistan are in our group. It is always a special match, but they have not played many tough matches of late.
On the other hand, we now know how to handle the pressure of big matches. Korea will be a tough nut to crack, especially because of the home Sunil says team can cope with hectic schedule support.
But, we believe that if we can make it to the final, nobody can stop us.” With V R Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh being potent drag-flickers, India has seemed over-reliant on penalty corners. Sunil identifies lack of field goals as a problem. “We have worked a lot on field goal conversion and earning penalty corners. On the defensive side, we need to stop conceding easy penalty corners.”