Of the 19 months Graham Reid has been chief coach of the Indian men’s hockey team, nine have been lost without any international matches due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the six FIH Pro League matches Reid’s boys played in January and February, they won four, two of them via shootout, and lost two—to world No.1 Belgium and Australia.
During the freeze in sports activities since the Pro League matches, the 56-year-old Olympic silver medallist from Australia has overseen the preparation of the team so that they can return to Pro League action in April at a good level and re-build momentum for the Tokyo Olympics, rescheduled for July-August 2021.
The Indian team’s camp has been on at the Sport Authority of India’s Centre of Excellence at Bangalore since October 24. It will have a three-week break from December 12 and the probables with re-assemble in Bengaluru on January 5 for a final camp before returning to action.
Reid would have completed two years as India hockey coach when they resume their Pro League engagements with a match against Olympic champions Argentina on April 10, 2021, the first step on the path to try and make amends for four decades of disappointments in Olympics. He gives an assessment on the team in this interview.
You said before the camp that the aim was to hit top gear by the year end. Where do we stand?
Our latest fitness tests in the strength, weight and muscle components show that we are nicely on target. Out training sessions output data are approaching our February figures so we are close to our international match level. It is of course very difficult to say where we are in our playing levels when we have no external source to gauge against. Given the extremely difficult circumstances for the last four months, I am pleased with where we are. In a normal year you have 4-6 week camps and the players get one week off to spend with friends and family. On the weekends they normally leave the campus and visit the mall, cinema, etc. This year there has been none of that and has been a very tough mental test for all of us.
What are your targets for the next stage?
With Hockey India we are currently planning for training and matches in January. Depending on the length of the trip and how many players we take, we hopefully will get to play approximately eight games. This should provide a very good level of test as to where we are at, providing the rest of February to prepare properly for the Asian Champions Trophy in March.
The last time they went on a break, six players tested Covid-19 positive on return. How worried are you?
Our players realise how important it is to follow the protocols set down by Hockey India and various government departments. Given that, as the rest of world sport has shown, Covid can penetrate even the toughest of protocols and our players certainly understand the risks involved with life outside the camp bubble.
Will you give them any special instructions as this camp will be closer to Pro League matches for India?
Before their release, the players will receive strict briefing on the SOPs for being COVID safe and the dos and don’ts during the time with their families.
How much will the pandemic impact India’s Tokyo preparations?
Given that we’ve not had any international competition for nine months, it is very difficult to gauge where the team is at in comparison with other top teams. What I can say is we have done everything possible to maintain, and more recently get the players back to the level they will need to be to compete on the world stage.
You must have watched the recent Pro League games. How difficult is it for the Indian players to get into competition after such a big gap? What will make things smoother?
As we saw with some of the international games during these latest Pro-League games that the standard of international hockey is very high. To bridge the gap, we’ve been trying to increase the intensity of our training. Unfortunately, nothing can really take the place of international competition. That’s why we are working hard with Hockey India to finalise matches where possible.