PC defence India’s biggest concern: Adrian D’Souza

Former goalkeeper Adrian feels new players need to step up to shoulder the responsibility; Rupinder hopes the lessons learnt in Australia will help the side in Paris

Published - April 26, 2024 06:55 pm IST

Indian field hockey goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza stretches but can not save a goal scored by Pakistani player Sohail Abbas during the six-nation Champions Trophy Tournament match at National Hockey Stadium in Lahore

Indian field hockey goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza stretches but can not save a goal scored by Pakistani player Sohail Abbas during the six-nation Champions Trophy Tournament match at National Hockey Stadium in Lahore | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Former Indian goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza watches intently as a young goalkeeper takes a sprint from the place where a custodian takes guard to the area where the penalty corner specialist takes his or her shot.

On the other side of the artificial turf at the SDAT-Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium here in Chennai, former India defender, a penalty corner specialist, and a key member of the team that won the bronze medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, is busy taking a video of a player unleashing a drag flick. Then, he gets busy talking to the young players on the nuances of drag flicks. For over an hour, the two Olympians, Rupinderpal Singh (2021 Tokyo) and Adrian (2004 Athens) get occupied, discussing with the young players, all aged under-19 years, the technique and strategy involved in taking penalty corners and the art of goalkeeping respectively.

Novel initiative

“It is a unique and novel initiative by Hockey India. A coaching camp like this has not happened before,” gushed Adrian even as Rupinderpal said: “We want the players to have the right technique and we are eager to groom players who show bright potential.”

Rupinderpal said the 0-5 whitewash in the recently concluded Test series against Australia wasn’t a true reflection of how the Indian men’s team can perform at the Paris Olympics
Adrian said India has to be cautious about Australia’s counter-attack as it has the ability to convert a defensive opportunity into a goalscoring opportunity in 15 seconds
Rupinderpal and Adrian, who are in Chennai for a week-long coaching camp organised by Hockey India, said it was a novel idea by HI. They feel the camp will help identity and groom promising young talents
The two Olympians are of the view that India can win a medal at Paris provided they are consistent and play together as a unit

Of course, things have been not so bright for the Indian men’s team especially with Paris Olympics nearing. In a disastrous outing in Australia, India lost all the five Test matches in Perth. The team’s performance reflected the Murphy’s law, “Whatever has gone wrong will go wrong.”

Rupinderpal and Adrian weren’t unduly worried about the team’s drubbing in Australia. Rather, they felt it will force the team into a huddle and the players will come up with a better performance in the forthcoming FIH Pro League in Europe and the Paris Olympics.

Rupinderpal is of the firm opinion that the team has to focus more on penalty corner defence and score more field goals. The 33-year-old, with 223 International caps, explained the lessons learnt in the failed Test series against Australia.

“Test games are always taken as preparation before the bigger tournaments. So, I think I’m sure they have taken those games in that mentality only. But, of course in those Test games, they have tried many things including trying various combinations. They were new faces as well. I think the head coach (Craig Fulton) has given opportunity to new faces, too. In that way, I think it is a plus point that they have got five games against Australia before the Pro-League and the Olympics. And I think they just need to improve on defensive structure, especially penalty corner defence because they have conceded around seven goals during penalty corner defence; it‘s an area they need to improve. At the same time, they need to work on scoring some field goals as well.”

Having played Test matches in Perth in his time with the Indian team, Adrian said Indians have done badly in Perth. Especially when he was with the Indian team twice, the team fared quite badly.

According to the former India custodian, with 165 International caps, the biggest challenge for the Indian men’s team has been Perth. “More than Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, I think Perth has been a destination where as an Indian squad we’ve always had a tough time. There’s no specific reason. In my experience, Perth would always be a place where we would have a tough time. I think twice we went there during my time as a player. We lost the series 3-0 and 4-0 in 2007-08 & the next time was in 2010.”

Find new rushers

Adrian is clear that the team has to improve its penalty corner defence, which is an area of concern. He insisted India that has to find new rushers other than the usual ones such as Manpreet Singh and Amit Rohidas.

“We had the best first rushers like Manpreet Singh and the other guys out there giving their life out. And for attack, it’s always been Harmanpreet Singh and now we have Jugraj Singh and many others. And, of course, defender Amit Rohidas; he’s the wall, who is like a goalkeeper running out there. But we cannot always depend only on Amit and Manpreet. We have to find others. And that’s what this entire series has been about. There were many other players who got the opportunity to represent India against Australia in a Test series.”

Neither refusing to single out any player who did well nor willing to pick any player for defeat in the Test series against Australia, Rupinderpal said hockey has always been about team effort and camaraderie. He said if these two aspects are there in a team, any struggle can be overcome. ...”I don’t believe in individual performances. Of course, it counts. But at the same time, if the team’s coordination and team’s environment is good, then any struggle on the field can be managed.”

Adrian said the positive aspect in the run-up to Paris Olympics was that the team has enough time to prepare unlike what happened in Tokyo. He said: “For me, the biggest challenge is that the players shouldn’t get demotivated. Because we have less than 90 days for Paris. We have to learn lessons from Perth. Unlike the last time in the Tokyo Olympics, there were not many practice matches that the team could play due to COVID. But now the team is getting more exposure. I think the entire management must have surely learnt a lot. And figured out the best team for Paris because it is going to be a very tough one.”

Moreover, Adrian said India has failed to control Australia in the latter’s counter-attacks. “Personally, I feel there are more challenging parts. Especially with penalty corner defence. And when it comes to Australia, it’s the counter-attacks that we have to be very, very cautious about. That was one of the weaker aspects. Definitely, Australia can convert a defensive opportunity. The Australian team will be defending and in the next 15 seconds, they will score a goal. So, the challenging part is how you break them as Australia doesn’t like to be broken. And they don’t like to have more fouls on them. And that was a great lesson to be learnt in the recent Test series.”

Adrian said in Paris Olympics, chances of getting penalty corners isn’t easy and the Indian team should be able to convert the few chances it gets. “When you are going to go to an Olympics, you surely are going to only be prepared for two or three penalty corners per game, but you have to convert. Conversion rates have to be 100 per cent or at least 80 per cent. And not 50 per cent, which will not help you much.”

Rupinderpal felt India has been doing well in penalty corners with Harmanpreet and Jugraj doing well and he believed that they should focus on it and fine-tune it.

Mastering it

Adrian said the Indian team has mastered the 2 vs 1 (return passes) where the two attackers don’t hold the ball or dribble for long. Rather they pass quickly to the other giving no chance to the defender. “The best part what I have been observing in Indian hockey recently is the combination. The one-to-one passes that we have been doing. It reminds you of Dhanraj Pillay and Mukesh Kumar. You might change the colour of the turf, you might change the colour of the ball, but there are certain things you can’t change. A ‘2v1’ will always beat the opponent. But the way you do it and where you do it is so important. Right now, India has been doing it at the right places.”

Rupinderpal and Adrian said a medal for India at Paris is not ruled out but as is the cliche it has to take one match at time. Adrian weighed in: “It depends on how consistent the team is on a given day. Because consistency plays a big role in the big events. You can have a great match versus Australia. Maybe, we’ll win Australia. But what if you lose the other games? What if you lose to Ireland? And that is the key for Indians, especially mentally. I think the Indian team has the right set of coaching staff. But at the end, what matters is how they work as a team. Because what you witnessed in the Tokyo Olympics is a complete team effort. Everybody chipped.”

The two Olympians strongly believe that team work will be the key for the Indian team. Explained Adrian: “If you have 11 players on the field, even if eight players are giving their 100 per cent those three (non-performing) will be hidden. But if you have 11 players on the field and eight are not performing, then even those three who are performing will come in that loop.”

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