In India's first clash against Argentina in the FIH Pro League, Argentinian defenders were left bamboozled following a gorgeous ball from Manpreet Singh which almost resulted in a goal. The next moment, Manpreet was diving to make a last-ditch tackle in his circle to save India's clean sheet.
Having shifted from midfield to defense under Craig Fulton, the former Indian captain can be seen covering every bit of hockey turf in his new role and enjoying it. He also bagged player of the match in the 5-1 thrashing of Olympic Champions Belgium.
Manpreet had played as a defender in his initial days making the switch easy for him.
"I joined the national team as a defender in 2011. Slowly I moved to midfield and played there. Different coaches have used me in different ways. I think all of it comes down to team composition," Manpreet told The Bridge.
"Honestly, I don't care much where I am playing. All I want is to don the national jersey and play for my country," he added further.
With Craig Fulton taking over, India have had a mixed tournament till now with three wins and four losses.
Talking about the new coach, Manpreet said, "The new coach has explained his vision to us very clearly. He wants the team to defend and win. He has brilliant ideas about how we will play hockey. The best part is that he wants to keep our style of hockey at the center and build a strong team around it."
Importance of 3-D Skills
While talking about the natural skills possessed by Asian players, Manpreet explains why three-dimensional skills like carrying the ball on the stick in the air are important in today's game.
"The Asian countries possess the skills and we are known for it. Now we have 3D skills which we try during our practice sessions. The idea behind it is to replicate it during the games," Manpreet said.
Explaining further how the Indian team practices it, Manpreet said, "We have different sessions for this. If this skill set is executed, we also know it creates a lot of chances. It also creates doubt in the mind of the defense and they are afraid to put sticks (as putting sticks can result in a penalty corner inside the circle). We have players like Akashdeep, Mandeep, and Abhishek who execute it very well."
When asked, what his secret to executing these skills is, he said laughed, "Mujhse toh bas ho jati hai bataun toh (Honestly, I just execute it without knowing)."
Road Ahead for Indian Hockey Team
With FIH Pro League ending today for the Indian men's hockey team, the next target will be the Asian Champions Trophy which is scheduled in August in the city of Chennai.
Talking about the tournament, Manpreet said, "We have a packed schedule, honestly. We are playing the best teams around the world and this will help us improve. I am excited to play in Asian Champions Trophy as it is happening on our home turf. We are following our process and staying together."
This will be the second tournament for the Indian team in front of their home crowd. Playing at home comes with huge expectations and Manpreet is aware of that expectation.
"In competitions like Asian Games, World Cup, and Olympics, the expectations are very high from us. The expectations trickle down to the players and especially the younger ones. We as a unit take one game at a time and move up. As seniors, we make sure that the whole team is focused on the basics of the game," said Manpreet.
When asked how the Indian team bonds together, Manpreet said, "We have a lot of fun activities going around. We play cricket, volleyball, play pranks, and go on team dinners. Our bond is strong as a team which comes out on the pitch also."
With world cup disappointment behind him and a new role to perform, the onus lies on Manpreet to manage the expectations and perform better in a packed schedule.