India has emerged as a bronze medalist in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics. It has been the first time since 1980 that India has clinched a podium finish at the mega event. Throughout the campaign, India has played a consistent attacking brand of hockey. They had registered 6 wins out of 8 games, bettering their performance from Rio Olympics in 2016. In this article, we will have a look at the Indian campaign through our detailed analysis.
Graham Reid had trained the Indian troops to maintain high levels of sustained energy throughout 60 minutes to play pressing hockey.
Wingers and central forwards were instructed to press higher up in the opposition 25-yard line and the shooting circle down. The instruction is to cut down the passing lane which could make it difficult for the opposition to bypass the high pressure of Indian forwards and midfielders in the initial period.
Indian on the ball traits relied upon quick interchanges, rotation with a combination of overlapping wingers and fullbacks to create numerical 2 vs 1 and 3 vs 2 superiority and overload the number game in the flanks. The pace of Indian fullbacks and wingers was used to a great advantage. They would breach the high press from the first line and the intent is to optimise and exploit the empty wide area in the flanks. Indian front line adds a diverse alternative outlet for Graham Reid to bring some tactical changes in the different intervals of the game. Mandeep Singh offers a tremendous work rate with his off the ball movements to earn ball possession. He has great on the ball dribbling skills and could pick up the passes and link up with overlapping fullbacks from the right-hand flank. Dilpreet provided more muscle in the opposition shooting circle and more directness and pace in the flanks. Simranjeet Singh was a revelation for the Indian forward line in this tournament. He had great positioning skills and muscle power, he has found space quite comfortably in the high-pressure zone and he has created numerous shooting positions for himself in a crowded region and was handy in creating the penalty corner threats.
Indian captain Manpreet Singh likes to operate very deep in a 25-yard line with a strict role to support the fullbacks and centre half for the defensive cover, his on the ball traits were quite instrumental against the opposition high pressure in retaining ball possession and his ability to bypass and distribute to make further ball progression in the pitch had allowed Hardik Singh and Nilakanta Sharma to surge forward and support the attackers. While the role of the centre half has not changed and they are encouraged to sweep and drive.
The higher overload up the field created an irregular defensive shape which allowed wide diversion and space for the opposition to exploit in the high line when the ball is progressed and it becomes quite difficult for Indians to drop deep and block the opposition passing lane. Indian centre half and fullbacks were quite vulnerable in defending in a 1 vs 1 situation and it tends to be shaky or a double team was required for the clearance to win the dual. Defending long hits and drives had made them more quite prone to giving away the cheap penalty corners.
India needs to identify the successor of Sardar Singh who had retired in 2018. India likes to peddle high intensity but the lack of a holding midfielder and halfback that Sardar had specialized in, this position has been a missing jigsaw puzzle for Graham Reid side. Ball retention to control the tempo and dictate the pace of the match could help India to avoid collapse against high pressing opposition.
PR Sreejesh had been the heartbeat of India in the backline. On 63 shots on target, he made stunning 40 saves which makes the success rate of 63.49%. If we filter the stats, on 36 attempts through penalty corners, he made 19 saves that include the decisive in the last seconds to dash German hopes in the bronze medal playoffs, eventually, his success rate in saving penalty corners was 52.77%. The role of Amit Rohidas, the first rusher has been instrumental and he had helped Sreejesh to withstand some breathtaking penalty corner shots from going into the back of the net with his brave run.
If we quantify the Sreejesh numbers game in every game by game by filtering out the penalty stroke. His success rate has only dropped below 50% only twice in 8 games. He made acrobatic 8 out of 15 saves against Australia despite the scoreline was decisive and humiliating. This example states the value of PR Sreejesh as a goalkeeper in the Indian lineup and how instrumental he has been for the national team for over a decade.
Role of Indian Forwards:
Graham Reid had encouraged the Indian lineup to press forward in the 25 yards and trained them to beat the high press and create room in the flanks. Mandeep Singh operated at the right-hand side of flanks and was quite lively as a dribbler. Simranjeet Singh would cut in from both sides of the flanks and his ability to find space and create shooting position was exceptional. Dilpreet Singh with the pace and direct style flourished quite a lot in this setup. It took 5 games for forward line to settle toward the demand and they all stepped up big time in the knockouts.
Simranjeet Singh has 3 field goals to his name in this campaign which is the most by any player in this lineup, Gurjant Singh had scored 2 fields goals and 1 came in through penalty corner (3 in total). Dilpreet Singh has scored 2 field goals. Mandeep Singh, Nilakanta Sharma and Shamsher Singh got 1 goal each to their name. Indian Forwards needs to raise their bar in the upcoming FIH events and next cycle if India has to challenge for the bigger ambition.
Indian Drag Flickers:
Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh are India’s two best drag flickers and had an additional feature of providing India with solid defensive cover in the backline.
Harmanpreet Singh has emerged as a potential successor of Rupinder Pal Singh to find the back of the net with his drag-flick with tremendous force and he had found the back of the goal post with ease throughout penalty corner.
In 13 attempts, Rupinder had found back of the net only once against Spain, but he had compensated miss chances by converting 3 penalty strokes. On the other hand, Harmanpreet Singh in 18 attempts has converted the penalty corner 6 times. He was eventually India’s leading goal scorer in Olympics.
India Goal Scoring Chart:
India had scored 25 goals in the campaign with an average count of 3.12 goals per game. If we abstract the status in each quarter, India has scored 7 goals in the first Quarter, 6 goals in the second, 6 goals in the third and 5 goals in the final quarter.
India had also conceded 23 goals in the entire campaign, but again if we quantity the number in each half, they had conceded 4 goals in the first quarter, 8 goals in the second quarter, 4 in the third quarter and 7 in the last quarter.
Practically, India’s fitness tends to tire up, the concentration and energy levels tend to drop in the second half especially in the final quarter and player tends to drop deep to defend their lead which allows the opposition to exploit space and time to run through the Indian defence. The task for the next cycle should be to improve upon their fitness, defensive structure and the individual marking that could eventually make them a great threat for the gold medal race.
India has rightfully emerged as the third-best team and deservingly medallist at the Tokyo Olympics. They were clinical and emphatic in their wins, they improved their attacking and pressing structure. To bridge the gap between Belgium and Australia, they need to work upon the technical aspects but to improve the ecosystem of Indian Hockey, the revival of the Hockey Indian League or club hockey structure could do wonders in uplifting the standard of the Indian ecosystem.