Ahead of Hockey World Cup, Graham Reid takes India ‘Down Under’ to find answers to Australia jinx | Hockey News – Times of India
A professional set-up over the last decade has helped India grow on and off the field. A climb back up to the Olympic podium and entering the top five of world rankings are plaudits worth showing off. Players have made fortunes. But whenever India thought it was carrying cannonballs to shoot at Australia on the big stage, they failed to load.
Australia, with their familiar template of hard press and swamping tactics to kill the game in the opening quarter, have remained a largely unconquered opponent. In under two months’ time, at the January 13-29 World Cup in Odisha, coach Graham Reid and his Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists could be facing the Aussie riddle again — one that’s all too familiar, but still remains unsolved.
To find answers to that, the boys have reached Down Under. Adelaide, which was recently bathed in cricket colours for the India vs England semi-final at cricket’s T20 World Cup, will host a different set of ‘Men in Blue’ at the quiet Mate Stadium for a series of five matches.
TimesofIndia.com rang up India coach and former Australia international Graham Reid to get a feel of the pulse of the team and the list of his objectives on the tour of Australia.
(File image of Graham Reid – Twitter Photo)
So Graham, going for your favourite tour, to homeland Australia?
(Smiles) I think the last time I was in Adelaide, I went to watch my daughter play hockey there. That was quite a while ago. Apparently there’s a new sort of set-up there with a new stadium, so that will be nice.
Adelaide was buzzing not long back…
Yeah exactly, for a different reason (T20 Cricket World Cup). Interesting to see the Australian public weren’t so convinced.
Probably because the home team was not playing well…
Of course, and that’s what happens. I did read an article giving five reasons why the crowds were not so good and one of them, I think, was that it was like 100 bucks a game for a ticket, something along those lines. But yeah, interesting anyway.
Talking about crowds, you are going to witness choc-a-block stands not very long from now at the World Cup in Odisha…
Yes. Someone was asking if a World Cup at home brings pressure. Of course, it does. There are both sides of the scales. On the positive side, our first game in Rourkela, playing at a purpose-built stadium for hockey in front of 20,000 people is a pretty big positive on the balance side. On the other side, it also helps motivate other teams.
In the run-up to #HWC2023 to be co-hosted by Bhubaneswar & Rourkela, yesterday, @SecyChief Shri Suresh Chandra Maha… https://t.co/au4zDGP8UW
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You are talking about 20,000 people. There were 80,000 people in Lahore back in the 1990 World Cup you played. So you know a thing or two about gigantic crowds…
It was incredible. We, the Australian team, played Pakistan in the semifinal and it’s something that you never forget. I remember seeing all these legs hanging over the front of the top of the grandstand… So yeah, pretty amazing. Of course, the objective then was to make the crowd silent as an Australian. But the noise that they made when Shahbaz (Ahmad) had the ball on his stick was just a crescendo, quite amazing.
The player who could silence the Pakistan crowd during that World Cup was only Floris Bovelander…
Correct (laughs). Unfortunately, we didn’t do it that day in that semifinal. As you say, it was only Bovelander who was the one able to silence that huge crowd. In those days, their (Netherlands) penalty corner was probably so much better than everyone else’s. I think the corners now are much more even, almost every team has a world class flicker.
It was more of a push-hit that Bovelander used on penalty corners…
That’s right. I think it was the ‘88 Olympics. He came from the second battery, quite wide and had a big long swing. He swung, hit the ball and in one game it struck, I think, Stefan Blocher (Germany) on the line, right in the middle of the head. It was quite sickening to hear it actually happen. But he (Bovelander) could definitely smash the ball very hard.
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Back to the upcoming World Cup next year…Did you get a chance to visit Rourkela, the second host city besides Bhubaneswar, and look at the pitch and the new stadium?
Unfortunately not. We weren’t able to get there on the last tour (visit). So we have sort of seen bits and pieces of it. So yes, it will be new for us, and we are probably heading there a little early, like 27 December or something. So we’ll get a good look at it before the tournament starts.
Is there a test event in Rourkela before the World Cup?
Well, they were talking about it, but I’m not sure. Unfortunately the only sort of window left is around the Christmas period. And of course, no one wants to be playing hockey outside of, perhaps, the Islamic nations. So I think it’s been a bit of a tough sell. I think a couple of teams have replied, but not with their World Cup teams.
As you mentioned a couple of teams have shown interest for the test event but not with their World Cup squads. Along the same lines, do you think Australia will field their full-strength squad on your tour there before the World Cup?
It’s a good question, but I really don’t know. They have just finished their national championships…But that’s only two of the teams (in the finals), so maybe whoever played in this last week or so may miss the first few games (against India) and then come in.
But it can be part of a strategy if Australia decide to not field the entire first-team against India…
Australia haven’t had that many games, apart from the Commonwealth Games, to experiment. So you could justify both ways. It can be either ‘right, we need to practice with our full team because these are the ways..we’ll be getting a short number of games before we have to go to the World Cup’. Or you could go the
other way and say, ‘Yeah, tactically it’s just smarter to play different players”. But what I do know is that it doesn’t really matter. They will be strong no matter what.
Calling Australia ‘strong’ is kind of an understatement considering the results that India have had against them. Do you have those bases covered now or are you going to test some new strategies on the Australia tour?
The first part is that we just need to play. The disappointing part of the Commonwealth Games was that we didn’t put our best foot forward. That was not India at its best. We did not play well that day. If you don’t play well, then it doesn’t matter what strategies you use (because) they are not going to work.
The most important thing is that we handle the ball well, play well and then the strategies will come into play after that. So from an objective point of view, we just need to be out and about and playing the way that we like to play.
But the CWG result against Australia was not a one-off. The Aussies mauled India at the Tokyo Olympics as well, and before that too. The surprising part is that we know they will press hard in the first quarter to kill the game, but yet we are found out against the same tactic time and again. Your thoughts on that…
When you go back and look at the Commonwealth Games match, up until the last minute of the first quarter, we were 1-nil down. I think they scored their first in the 14th minute or 13th minute or something. So we were playing okay, but I think it was that second goal just before quarter-time (hooter) that ended up sort of doubling, if you like, in the players’ mind.
It’s a difficult one to answer because we have tried to address it. We addressed it straight away, and we also addressed it in the next camp from the point of view of trying to get them (the players) to go through what was going through their mind, getting them to own up to their thought process that was going on and some critical conversations.
If you end up wanting to call it a phobia, then, if you are afraid of something, the best way to get yourself ‘unafraid’ is to hit it head on. If it’s spiders, then you hold 25 spiders in your hands. If it’s snakes, then you put your hand in a snake pit. So one of the objectives of this tour is to desensitize yourself and get yourself familiar with ‘okay, this is what it is going to feel like, this is what you go through, that’s the reality.’ So it’s just about bit by bit, chipping away.
I don’t think there is a silver bullet. If there was, I think someone would have discovered it by now…I am always wary of someone who has a silver bullet because it’s normally bullshit. It’s not normally true, or if it is, they (only) think it is. But in reality, it doesn’t end up being that way. The answer is always somewhere in the middle. It’s not just a simple thing. It’s a series of things over time.
Coming to the squad you have picked for the Australia tour, Varun has been recalled from outside of the core group after being dropped earlier. What was the thought process behind that?
I don’t know what I can say, to be honest. At the end of the day, what I will say is it’s great to have him back from the point of view that he’s a valuable player to be able to take on the tour. He’s done his penance if you want to call it that way.
(File photo of defender Varun Kumar – Getty Images)
That’s what I was trying to come to. Was he dropped from the core group because of his mistakes and cards during the game against Australia at the CWG?
It’s one of those things (decisions) that’s made from a selection point of view and you move on. I always like to look on the positive side, and the positive side is that we’ve been able to get him back into the squad, into the team for Australia (tour), and we go from there.
Does Varun’s recall also give hope to Simranjeet, who was dropped from the core group the same time as Varun was?
That’s a different story, probably, with him. As they kept saying, they felt like he was not fit enough, and it is what it is. But look, you know with Simran, if he’s at his best, then he can play at that level.
We saw it at the Tokyo Olympics, the difference Simranjeet made to the team…
Correct. He’s a class player, but of his own admission, he was not at the level that he needed to be. And that was for a number of factors…He was injured directly after (the Olympics), and that also set him back…What I tell all the players, and this probably applies to Simran, is that if you want it badly enough, you will do whatever is required.
Will you check on Simranjeet again before you pick your 18 for the World Cup?
For the World Cup, it’s difficult to come back from there, to be honest. You needed to be here (in the squad) now. That’s the reality. We’ve only got whatever it is now. Less than 60 days to go (for the World Cup).
And in your mind, have you picked your 18 already?
To be honest, no, I haven’t, probably because the minute you do that, you narrow your perspective and you start trying to justify, so it brings in the justification bias and it brings in the investment bias and all those sorts of things into decision-making, and I am not perfect at it by any means. That’s why I try to keep an open mind.
Last question, Graham. What is it with the captaincy changing hands so quickly since the Olympics? From Manpreet Singh to Amit Rohidas to back to Manpreet and now to Harmanpreet Singh. Is this also part of some strategy?
We’ve got Harmanpreet and we have got Amit. They will be (the leaders) for this tour. Let’s see what happens for the World Cup. It’s the broadening of leadership. It’s trying to make sure that we get our leadership structure in place. We have a leadership group…These guys have those leadership qualities that they will apply to the team no matter what.
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