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India's penalty corner troubles due to drag-flickers' lack of creativity and variations, says former captain Sandeep Singh

New Delhi: Former India hockey captain Sandeep Singh believes India's long-standing issues with short-corner conversion are due to lack of variety and creativity, and stressed on the need for drag-flickers to be more innovative. This year, India's struggles with penalty corners have already stood out in events such as the Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy, and Asian Games, and with the Asian Champions Trophy and World Cup on the horizon, the Manpreet Singh-led team are looking for some serious course correction.

At the Champions Trophy final in Breda, Netherlands, India could convert just one of their nine penalty corners to go 2-3 down to Australia. At the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, India converted just 10 of their 39 chances, while at the Asian Games, India found the net only 23 times out of the possible 59.

File image of Sandeep Singh. AFP

File image of Sandeep Singh. AFP

Speaking to Firstpost, Sandeep, an expert drag-flicker in his heyday, credited technology for helping goalkeepers read the drag-flickers well.

"Technology has come a long way in hockey, and with all the video analysis going on all the time, it's a lot easier for goalkeepers to strategise. Thus, it's important for drag-flickers to add variations to their craft. If you stand and shoot from the same spot all the time, goalkeepers will read you and it will become easier for them to negate your strikes," he said.

"The goalkeeper reads you very closely, and when he catches a pattern in your style, it becomes easy for him to stop you. For example, if a player wants to shoot right-high or right-low, he should be able to shoot left-high or left-low from the same spot and from the same angle. That deception is very important in a drag-flicker. So you see, there are variations within variations with subtle changes," the 32-year-old explained.

Apart from poor conversions, conceding late goals has been India's bugbear for years, and Sandeep said the team needs to get over its mental block while playing against top teams in big matches.

"The problem of conceding late goals is quite old, and I think it is because of a lack of mental strength. If you are mentally tough, you can play your game even in the dying minutes of the match. That said, I think we also score a lot in the last seconds these days. The problem, I think is more against big teams that have beaten us regularly. If we can cope up with that pressure of playing against big teams, I don't think any team can beat us," he said.

India's fragility famously surfaced at this year's Asian Games semi-final against Malaysia who were ranked seven places below them and had an embarrassing 1-10 win-loss record against India before that match. The defending champions and pre-tournament favourites twice wasted the lead, before going down on penalties.

"I think we lacked confidence in attack and short-corner conversion at the Asian Games," he said. "Though we can't use just one match as an evidence to judge our performance, we must admit that we had our chances, but didn't convert them under pressure. We should train towards that," the former Commonwealth Games gold-medallist said.

India next play the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat (18-28 October) before the action shifts to Bhubaneshwar for the senior men's World Cup. Sandeep believes the hosts must look to qualify for the semi-finals and not put themselves under undue pressure by thinking of gold all the time.

"I think the realistic aim should be to reach the semis. The approach should be to take it on a match-by-match basis, and once the semi-final berth is assured, they must reassess their target. If they go into the event thinking of gold, they will put additional pressure on themselves," the former World Cup player said.

'Happy that biopic did well'

Sandeep's life and his miraculous comeback from partial paralysis after being accidentally shot in a train has been immortalised in Shad Ali's movie 'Soorma'. The biopic released in July this year, and will be aired on Sony MAX on 14 October.

"I wanted a larger cross-section of people to know about my struggle. I want the youngsters to learn from my life and be ready to fight the challenges," Sandeep, who overcame the accident in 2006 and returned to the national team within two years, said.

Further, Sandeep clarified that he is not gunning for a national comeback anymore and is instead focussing on a pan-India world-class sports academy.

"I am not thinking of comeback anymore. I am looking to build a world-class sports academy with branches all over India. My aim is to not only train the youth in the sport of their choice, but also ensure they have a career to lead a comfortable life," the Arjuna Awardee concluded.


Updated Date: Oct 09, 2018 15:21 PM

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