Hockey WC: Boys ready to take risks and win it, says India coach Harendra Singh

Updated: 28 November, 2018 08:44 IST | Ashwin Ferro | Bhubaneswar

India coach Harendra Singh rubbishes young team tag; says boys are ready to give their all to create history as hosts face South Africa in opener today

India coach Harendra Singh (blue jersey) instructs his players during a training session recently. Men in Blue take on South Africa today
India coach Harendra Singh (blue jersey) instructs his players during a training session recently. Men in Blue take on South Africa today

The Manpreet Singh-led young Indian team, with an average age of just 23, is ready to go flat out in their attempt to create World Cup history at home, as the quadrennial competition begins today at the Kalinga Stadium here against South Africa. India's best finish at home in a World Cup has been fifth (Mumbai, 1982), followed by eighth place in 2010 at New Delhi.

Going by rankings, No. 5 India are a lot superior to No. 15 South Africa, but the on-field results at crucial competitions tell a different story. The last time India played SA in a World Cup, the match ended 3-3, at the 2010 New Delhi edition. Two years later, at the all-important Olympics in London, India were forced to settle for an embarrassing wooden spoon [12th and last place] after going down to them 2-3. India did beat SA 5-2 at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, but this Timothy Drummond-led side are no pushovers, and it will take a good physical show by the Indians to win today.

India to attack
Coach Harendra Singh realises that. "They [SA] play a very physical game and we are ready for it. I also expect their strikers to try to break us, but we have strategies in place. So far, this year has been one of mixed results for us, but we won't compromise on playing attacking hockey against any team," said Harendra at the press conference on
eve of the match.

Mention the words "young team" and both coach and skipper almost snap in their replies. "The Constitution gives us the right to marry after 18. So this is not a young team," said Harendra with a laugh. Manpreet butts in: "And we don't have any children's here."

Harendra continued on a more serious note: "You must have patience. If the selectors have considered you to be good enough to wear India colours, you must be proud and every player in the team understands that. It's a good message being sent out — to trust youth and not to rely on any maharathi [star player]. Did anyone think that Croatia will make it to the FIFA World Cup final? So, every team works on their strategy. We want to top the pool to avoid the crossovers. That's the plan."

And to achieve this plan, the players are ready to go to any lengths. "The boys are ready to risk it. Their [shoulders] will not droop, if they lose the ball in the middle, instead, they will go back and get it. They are ready to make [split-second] decisions on the field and to stick by them. Only then can they achieve success. This is a team that can create history, and if they do, then will you say that the earlier more experienced Indian teams were bad?"

'Pressure on hosts'
South Africa captain Drummond, meanwhile, said the heat is on the hosts. "We're excited about this big match. It's an opportunity to showcase our skill set. The pressure is on your [India's] shoulders because of the crowd and expectations. Not all of us play tests or leagues, but we play a good brand of hockey. We have done our research," said Drummond.

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First Published: 28 November, 2018 08:39 IST

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