With the team set to play the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai followed by the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in the next two months will be crucial for the Indian men’s hockey team, says skipper Harmanpreet Singh.
The team is targeting the Asian Games as winning the gold medal will also earn a direct berth to next year’s Olympic Games in Paris. India won a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympic Games and would like to improve on that in Paris and prove that Tokyo was not a flash in the pan and that Indian hockey is really on the upswing.
The Indian men’s hockey team captain Harmanpreet Singh and vice-captain Hardik Singh on Tuesday talked about the team’s preparations for the upcoming important tournaments including the Asian Champions Trophy Chennai 2023 which will be followed by the Hangzhou Asian Games, where the Indian team will be competing for direct qualification of the Paris Olympic Games 2024.
In the latest episode of Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India, Harmanpreet Singh and Hardik Singh stressed the significance of special camps conducted by goalkeeping coach Dennis van de Pol from the Netherlands, as well as the appointment of mental health conditioning coach Paddy Upton, ahead of crucial tournaments.
“It is really important. When you get to learn from someone who has tons of experience, it makes a huge difference. We have had good sessions in Bengaluru with Paddy and Dennis. These have helped us a lot as a team.”
“The next two months are very important for us. At the Asian Champions Trophy Chennai 2023, we have this opportunity of playing quality matches before the Hangzhou Asian Games. It will be a good experience for the players. We have to make sure that we execute the strategies that we have worked on and I am sure that the tournament will be helpful for the players,” captain Harmanpreet added.
The upcoming Asian Champions Trophy, which is a marquee event in the Asian Hockey Federation’s calendar, is being held in India for the first time.
Incidentally, Chennai is a very special venue for the India captain as he was spotted by the then High-Performance Director of Hockey India Roelant Oltmans during the Hockey India Junior National Championships.
“I remember when the junior squad was to be announced in 2015, I was in Chennai playing the nationals, which we won. Then, Roelant Oltmans was there to see the matches and we were playing the final against Haryana. After that, I got called up for the national camp and then made my senior debut in the same year. The place holds a special place in my heart. I am very excited to go back there and play.”
Meanwhile, Hardik Singh expressed his thoughts about international matches returning to Chennai after 16 long years. The last time Chennai hosted an international hockey event was in 2007 when the Indian men’s hockey team lifted the 2007 Men’s Asia Cup Trophy after defeating South Korea 7-2.
He said, “It is really special for everyone that the Hero Asian Champions Trophy is being held in Chennai.
“The way the crowd supported us in Rourkela and Bhubaneswar, we hope that the fans come in huge numbers, fill the stadium and support us. I am looking forward to playing in Chennai.”
Interestingly, Hardik Singh made his debut at the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy which was held in Muscat. India and Pakistan were declared joint winners by forfeiture of the final due to persistent rain.
Recalling his experience, he said, “It was a new experience for me as it was the first important tournament for me and I was making my debut. But I was under no pressure and I knew that I have to give my best for the team.”
The flamboyant midfielder earned his 100th international cap for India in their match against England in the 100th Anniversary Spanish Hockey Federation — International Tournament being played in Barcelona, Spain. Talking about his journey, he said, “It is a blessing that I have represented the country. I feel honoured that I have been given this opportunity.”
Harmanpreet, who has known Hardik Pandya for the longest time, spoke about his camaraderie with Hardik over the years.
“I have been with him ever since he started his journey. He is an excellent player. The way he plays and carries the team is truly commendable. Whenever he is there on the field, it feels like there is someone who is giving his best every time and sacrificing his everything for the team. We all learn from him and going forward, I want more players like Hardik,” captain Harmanpreet said.