Barely 22 years old, Harmanpreet Singh has become the leader of the pack when it comes to taking penalty corners. Knowing that he is the go-to man for penalty corners in the India team for the hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar, it could be a boon as well bane, depending upon how he completes his assignment.
For young Harmanpreet, Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar — the three drag-flickers — it will be an opportunity to show their mettle in the absence of senior pro Rupinder Pal Singh, who didn’t find a place in the squad.
However, the pressure of expectation does not worry the Punjab player. “I feel no pressure. Everyone has experience, no one is absolutely new. All of us have played against big teams, so it won’t be a problem. We’ll help each other,” said Harmanpreet.
“If the opposition targets me thinking I am the main drag-flicker, we could use someone else. It’s not that only I will get the chance; everyone will. They won’t know who we will use and when. It’ll be good for us.”
His captain Manpreet Singh concurred. “I don’t think there is pressure on Harmanpreet. He took up the responsibility quite well during the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat. He has a good mixed group with Amit and Varun. They are doing well and I hope they will continue to do so during the World Cup,” said Manpreet.
In Rupinder’s absence during the Asian Champions Trophy, Harmanpreet stepped on the gas, scoring six goals, the second-highest scorer in the tournament.
“Harmanpreet also went to the Rio Olympics. I have had conversations with quite a few people, including the selectors and chief coach Harendra Singh, among others. Indian public only recognises experienced players but you only become experienced if you experience it,” said former Australia drag-flicker and India’s analytical coach Chris Ciriello, who helped his country win the 2014 World Cup in The Hague, scoring seven goals.
“Rupinder is a very good player but unfortunately sometimes injuries and other reasons sideline a player,” he added.
Going by the current trend, no country relies on one penalty-corner specialist. In fact, big teams have one primary PC expert and the rest support him. “Every team has 3-4 drag-flickers. There is always one big name, rest fill the vacuum. Giving responsibility to the main guy puts pressure on him. A team needs to have variety to flummox the opponent,” said Harendra.
“I feel, designating someone as a penalty corner specialist is wrong. Every player has some skill which he develops, say for example drag-flicking. But, at the same time, you cannot depend on one guy for drag flicks. Today, every team uses videos to analyse rival players, so one needs to have variations in drag flicks,” he said.
One of the most feared drag-flickers of modern times, Ciriello says the flick is only “34 per cent of the job. More important is the first part (push-and-trap) which constitutes 66 per cent”.
“For long, people ignored push-and-trap but now they are realising its importance,” said Ciriello. “If you’re not pushing straight and fast and not trapping the ball right, the flick doesn’t matter. If you want to get the flick right then all these factors need to be kept in mind.”
Harendra echoed Ciriello’s sentiment, adding that not just the drag-flick but strategy is equally important during a penalty corner. “The first and second runners and positioning of the rival defenders during a PC also decides the strategy,” said Harendra.
One of the most important aspects of modern hockey, penalty corners can alter the course of a match in seconds. Every team stresses on developing PC specialists who can beat the best goalkeepers and defenders with their variations.
Harendra believes his boys have what it takes to convert the opportunities. “My drag-flickers are at par with the best in the world.”
India’s head-to-head against opponents in 2018
India 5-0 Japan
India 1-3 Belgium (1 draw)
India 5-1 New Zealand
India 1-1 Argentina
India 1-1 England (1 draw)
India 0-3 Australia
India 2-1 Malaysia (1 draw)
India 1-1 Ireland
India 3-0 Pakistan (1 draw and 1 no result)
India 1-0 Wales
India 0-0 Netherlands (1 draw)
India 1-0 Indonesia
India 1-0 Hong Kong
India 2-0 South Korea
India 1-0 Sri Lanka
India 1-0 Oman
First Published: Nov 24, 2018 20:26 IST
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