It’s been about two months that Indian men’s hockey team has not been in action since their tie against Australia at the FIH Pro League during the last week of February. India have enjoyed a buoyant run in the FIH Pro League. It won both its matches against the Netherlands, and lost one and won one against both Belgium and Australia, which culminated into rewarding the team World no. 4 ranking for the first time since FIH was formed.
High on morale, while the team was preparing for their next clash against New Zealand at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru, the coronavirus pandemic reared its head on the shore. As a precautionary measure, while the country was placed under a lockdown, a force majeure from sports saw the hockey team restricting themselves to confines of the SAI campus. Defender and drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh opines staying together in the campus will be the key to team’s morale and their consistency would still be unfazed when they return to play matches.
In an exclusive conversation with The Bridge, the 24-year-old defender quipped, “Yes, we began the year well with some good performance against top 3 teams in the world. And at the moment, every team across the globe is facing this challenge. I believe comparatively, we are in a much better position because we are still together in the campus and working towards utilising this period in the best way possible.”
Singh has been an integral part of Indian defence since his debut in 2016. Presently, the vice-captain of the team, Harmanpreet played a lead role in India’s defence during the FIH Series Final 2019 as well as the FIH Olympic Qualifiers 2019 in Bhubaneswar, was presented with the Hockey India Pargat Singh Award for Defender of the Year 2019 at the 3rd edition of the Hockey India Annual Awards held on March 8. The lockdown and the rapid outbreak of the coronavirus makes him a bit worried about his family back in Amritsar, but he believes staying at SAI campus is a most secured option for him.
“I think this is a difficult period for everyone but my family knows I am in the most secured environment here in SAI, Bengaluru. I make sure I get on a call with my elder brother every day to keep a check on how everyone back home is doing and how my parents are coping. Initially, I was a bit worried about them and wanted to ensure they stay home and not go out for anything unless very necessary. SAI has taken several precautions and placed the entire facility on lockdown as early as March second week. We have been following several protocols ever since and I believe the entire core group is safe here more than being at home,” said Singh.
Though hockey is being suspended, the players are under watchful eyes and preparing for the challenges ahead.
“Though hockey training has been suspended ever since the nation-wide lockdown was announced, we have a busy schedule every day as the Coaching staff has designed specific program for all players which involves individual track running (about 4-5kms), followed by bodyweight training in our rooms.
“We are busy with the fitness routine for at least four-five hours every day. Apart from that, we have been provided with software to analyse our previous matches as well as our opponents’ matches. The coaching staff also prepare quizzes regarding the game and we need to share answers through WhatsApp. They are making sure we stay engaged and the focus remains on maintaining our fitness levels,” says Singh
Going by their recent form, many experts were predicting a medal from the Indian men’s hockey team at the Olympics. But with the sports ecosystem getting stalled, it boils down to another year of wait for everyone. Though there was some initial disappointment, the defender considers this period will be rightly utilised to de-load. “I think there was that initial disappointment although it was expected especially with the growing concerns around the globe regarding COVID-19. But we spoke about it and we felt that it’s best to have a positive outlook and look at this period as a time to improve further. Ever since Graham Reid took charge as the Chief Coach, the team has improved tournament-by-tournament, session-by-session we are getting better. The postponement will allow us more time to improve our play and this period is being used to de-load. We have been in intense training and competition over the past year. When we get back to training, we will be fresh both mentally and physically,” says Singh.
The Indian men’s hockey team was scheduled to take on Germany in April in the FIH Pro League. However, owing to the lockdown all the matches have been postponed indefinitely owing to the coronavirus outbreak.
The nationwide lockdown has entered the 26th day even as the number of Coronavirus positive cases continues to rise steadily on a daily basis. As per the latest data released by the Union Health Ministry, the COVID-19 cases stand at 17,265 in the country and the death toll is 543.