A day ahead of their final pool encounter against Germany, India put the emphasis on speed in their mid-afternoon training session at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar.
One of the drills involved splitting players into two groups. Lalit Upadhyay, Mandeep Singh and Gurjant Singh were fed balls at the edge of the circle and took shots at Suraj Karkera in goal on one side of the pitch, while Akash Chikte faced SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh and Birendra Lakra on the other.
"The difference was (that) against Australia, the team was extremely disciplined," the coach Sjoerd Marijne said the day after a 3-2 defeat against England. "Yesterday, our energy was lesser. Against these teams, if you have less energy at the beginning you will make more mistakes. We had more opportunities against Australia. The speed of the game against Australia was higher, and we held the ball on for a little bit longer (yesterday)."
On Sunday, the usually serious Marijne even allowed himself some laughs when the squad was divided into two groups. The team that Marijne had seemingly aligned himself with outscored the other, sparking some mock celebrations.
Defensive lapses crept in against England
The Indian defence was very porous against England, leaking three field goals. The last one came after the team had clawed back from 2-0 down to tie the game at 2-2, having brought a near-capacity crowd of 9000-odd to their feet.
Players like Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Lakra and Amit Rohidas had kept their shape better against Australia, but England were splitting them open by using runs from the sidelines and quick exchanges of passes inside the Indian defensive third. For a team that has come to Bhubaneswar without Sardar Singh, the defence will always be under the microscope for how well they are combining in the absence of their most experienced squad member.
"It was a team effort -- we started in a sloppy way and we need to bring more energy into our next game. We were giving possession away very softly, and needed to hold on to the ball better," said Rupinder, who had a hand in both goals against England, converting one penalty corner and also extracting a save off England goalkeeper Harry Gibson that allowed Akashdeep to score the other. "In the third and fourth quarter we played better, and also got our goals in the second half."
England coach Bobby Crutchley explained how the return from injury of two key attacking midfielders Brendan Creed and Harry Martin allowed his team to stick to their game plan. "I think we want to put pressure on defenders, deny space and passes. We wanted to pressure them. If defence turns the ball over, everybody else is up the pitch," he said.
India have ticked most boxes in their first two games -- their discipline on-field has been so impressive that they were the only team after the first round of games to not concede a single card, despite physical battles against both opponents. Mandeep was the only player to concede a green card, in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
"You can't afford to be too aggressive. With the hockey ball, you have to be aggressive but not with your body," said Rupinder, who has led by example at the back.
Another area where Rupinder has led is in drag-flicks, accounting for eight of the nine that India have taken at the tournament thus far. With Harmanpreet Singh taking the other PC, and Rohidas, Lakra and Dipsan Tirkey all capable as alternate batteries, India could be holding back the variations for the knockout stages.
"Yes, we need to give more chances to more players, but by and large we try and see which player is in rhythm on the day and try and convert through them."
Germany, with their cohesive midfield and defence, will offer a refreshing challenge on Monday evening, one that this Indian team should enjoy considering that there's no quarter-final qualification at stake.
"I think we are creative and that's our quality. I am not watching too much of the opponent. We have to go faster, (and if) we are not doing that, then we can't use our creativity. I am always searching for our strengths," said Marijne.
The forwards also need to improve their consistency inside the circle. India have made a habit of scoring some outrageously difficult individual goals in recent tournaments, with Akashdeep and Mandeep at the forefront, but have only one field goal in the tournament thus far. A lot of it has been down to decisive decision-making when moving forward, but Marijne feels they will only get better from the experience of the World League Final.
"If you can do it once, you can always do it the next time. The big challenge is to do it over and over again. These guys have the skills, no doubt, but the challenge is to do it in front of eight or nine thousand people," he said.