India are gunning for gold at the Commonwealth Games but it is not a target they are keeping in their minds in the run up to the event, according to captain Manpreet Singh. The 30-year-old returns as captain of the Indian team for the event, with the position briefly being taken up by Amit Rohidas during India’s Pro League matches this year.
The men’s team’s best finishes have been silver medals in 2010 and 2014 and Australia are the only team to have won gold on all six occasions that the sport has been played at the Commonwealth Games. Manpreet said that the team is ultimately going for gold but are now following a mental exercise to compartmentalise what they need to do to get there.
“We are going for gold. But we know that to do that, we have to achieve the small things first. We reach the final stage only if we take the first step correctly,” Manpreet told HindustanTimes.com.
“Our coach Graham Reid speaks about ‘zoom out and zoom in’. Zoom out means, looking at what we want to achieve, like the CWG medal, reaching the final. Now to achieve that, we have to first take care of the details. Which is giving everything you have in every match regardless of whether it be your first or second in the tournament,” said Manpreet.
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India were expected to win a medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but they ended up losing the semi-final to New Zealand and the bronze medal match to England. A major difference between the team that went to the competition in Gold Coast, Australia four years ago and the one that leaves for Birmingham on July 23 is that they have won a first Olympic medal in over four decades in the intervening years. The other one, Manpreet says, is that the team is not really afraid of facing anyone.
“Players are far more confident now (compared to Gold Coast 2018). There was a time when we used to get anxious before facing some of the stronger teams but that is not the case now. The players are ready to face anyone and are confident that we can win.
“The youngsters are giving their best. We all know what we need to achieve and where we are going. We know that if we want to win a medal at the Paris Olympics, we have to play well in every tournament before that instead of sitting back thinking that we have already won an Olympic medal,” said Manpreet.
Manpreet was captain of the team that won the historic bronze in Tokyo last year. The team had returned to India then to an outpouring of love in the streets wherever they went and an avalanche of media attention. Manpreet said that it didn’t take too long for the players to refocus their attention on the task at hand.
“We all came down to earth at the very next camp itself. We all knew that we could not afford to just keep carrying that on, if we did that then we won’t be able to achieve our next target. So all of us and the coaches were saying when we returned to camp that, yes, we are very happy that we won the medal but we have to move on from it now. We cannot be satisfied with this. The coaches were also saying that every team is now looking and studying India and they all would want to beat us. So we have to keep improving,” said Manpreet.
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India’s campaign at the 2022 CWG starts with a match against Ghana on July 29. Placed in Pool B, the other teams in their pool are Canada, Wales and England – the side that beat them in the bronze medal match at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“We are not going to underestimate any team so we will be preparing for Ghana a lot because that is the team we face first. England are certainly a team who can surprise anyone on any given day. We are going there with a mindset to beat every team and give our 100 percent in every match,” said Manpreet.
With the retirement of Rupinder Pal Singh, India lost an experienced drag flicker for penalty corners but Harmanpreet Singh seems to have fit into the role seamlessly. India had the most number of goals from penalty corners in the Pro League and Manpreet said that they are looking to further improve their conversion before the CWG.
“We have to work on our penalty corners. We are trying to work on more variations, trying to make problems for the opposition to deal with us,” he said. It doesn’t mean that the other areas are being ignored, of course. “According to the coach we need to make opportunities while attacking and of course we are working on our defence as well.”
For a better part of the build-up to the Commonwealth Games this year, it looked like India would be sending their ‘A’ team to the CWG, considering the fact that the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, was expected to start on September 10 this year. But with the Asian Games being postponed due to the Covid-19 situation in China, Hockey India decided to send the senior squad to Birmingham after all.
The India A side, coached by former captain Sardar Singh, had meanwhile played at the Asia Cup and won bronze as part of their preparation for the CWG before it was announced that it won’t be that team which will go for the event.
“The A team was doing pretty well but when we got to know that it will be us who will go to the CWG we were obviously very happy because any player would want to be part of such big events. The CWG also provides us some very good matches for the near future as well with the World Cup and more Pro League games coming up,” said Manpreet.
The flipside of the situation is that a number of the youngsters who would have expected to go to Birmingham will now have to wait for their turn. “Yes, certainly they would have wanted to go but at the end of the day, even they want India to win a medal, they are happy. They did get to play some big matches in the Asia Cup and did pretty well so they weren’t too disappointed with not being able to go,” said Manpreet.