Four years ago, the air was filled with hype and expectation when the Indian hockey team went through the build-up process before the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games on home turf.
This time, the side featuring several young faces prepares for two big events in Europe and captain Sardar Singh, a key member of the team then and now, understands the contrast quite well.
On the eve of the National team’s departure to Europe for some preparatory matches ahead of the World Cup (in The Hague, from May 31 to June 15), Sardar spoke about the challenges.
“Last time, the public support was huge. Playing the World Cup and Commonwealth Games at home was a different feeling. Our players have to be mentally tough while playing abroad in different conditions (this time),” said Sardar after a training session at the National Stadium here on Monday.
Sardar was delighted to get back the services of experienced midfielder Gurbaj Singh at just the right time. “Gurbaj’s presence has boosted the team. Personally, I have a good rapport with him — the eye contact between us is superb.”
“The main aim of the European Tour is to get used to the conditions — the cold weather and faster pitch. A short trip like this (from April 9 to 19) always helps.”
Sardar said that under chief coach Terry Walsh, the players were polishing their skills in several areas. “The best teams in the world do not give you too many chances. We are focusing on tackling, defending, how to play the aerial balls and place the ball with a small swing of the stick. Besides, we are having extended training sessions for the goalkeepers.”
Walsh said the coaching staff was doing its best to get the best out of the ’keepers.
“We are trying to get specialisation in that area. In my view, we have to do a lot in the development area. We are trying to impart much better knowledge to goalkeepers around the country,” said the chief coach.
Reiterating that the European tour will be an opportunity for the players to familiarise with the conditions, Walsh said the players in the camp needed to be rotated.
“We are aware that there are a lot of tournaments this year. We cannot use the same squad in every tournament. We are trying to expose these guys,” he said.
The Indian team will play five matches — including two against The Netherlands, one versus Belgium and two against Dutch clubs — during the tour.