Graham Reid became head coach of the Indian men's hockey team in 2019, when it was on an upward curve; his addition pushed them towards a well-deserved bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Reid, earlier with Australia (as assistant coach and later head coach) and Netherlands (assistant coach), will hope to have a similar impact in his second big tournament as India head coach. He spoke to ESPN before the World Cup about his concerns going into a big tournament, playing in a new stadium in Rourkela, the depth in India hockey and more.
In terms of depth in Indian hockey, are you happy with what you're seeing in the country? Has it improved from the time you came in?
Yes, I think so. One of the things I'm proud of is the fact that we've played with 31 different players in the last Pro League. That perhaps says more than anything. I definitely noticed this in Australia as well when I was with them. When you have a centralised program, you want to create a culture but also you have time to practice different strategies and different ways of play. So when you bring new people in, it will take a little while to learn those ways of play. I see a lot of talent around but to mould them into the way that we play, make sure they are good enough in defence or they mark tight enough or that they understand the press, that will take time. I think there's a bit of a patience game as well.
As far as raw talent, especially with this new junior group coming up, it is really quite exciting. Still, there are a lot of things they need to fix, but it's great when you see a raw talent coming up.
Going into a big tournament like the World Cup, what do you think the Indian team still lacks?
The biggest thing for me at the moment - and I harp at these guys all the time - is consistency. I know you might've heard me talk about this before, but I think it's still the biggest thing. Again, this is not necessarily an Indian problem but players in general -- when they are younger, they come out and have this really great game. Followed by the next game which is probably their worst one in a while. They have this up and down. Part of their experience and maturity as a player is developing that consistency. That's one player but when you multiply it by 18 or 16 or whatever the number is... the team plays well when you have enough players playing at their best. But if all of them are having a bad day at the same time, the difference in performance can be great.
That's what we've been talking about. Every single time you come on pitch, we have to give that benchmark performance. It has to be the same in the first quarter, in the second quarter, in the third quarter and in the last quarter. That's where consistency comes from. Anything that you can control around your game should be controlled. I think that's one of the differences with better teams. They have consistency.
It's a new stadium in Rourkela where India will play their opening two matches. They haven't played an international match there yet so is that a concern for you in terms of adjusting to the conditions?
Our guys play in so many different turfs around the world these days. It doesn't take too long (to adjust). And we have a fair few different exercises that we do whenever we need a quick judgement of what sort of turf it is, (to know about) any little idiosyncrasies. Then there's the excitement of playing in a purpose-built stadium that can hold 20,000 people.
Can you tell us what kind of exercises the team does to adjust to the ground conditions? Or is this something you can't reveal?
(Laughs) I mean it's things like we do an aerial drill where we throw overheads. Lots of different turfs bounce differently. Then there's a normal hit and trap exercises where you have to adjust your technique.
The tomahawks also. The backhand shots (reverse hits) also can vary a lot depending on the turfs, whether you can get underneath it. You see a lot on the new turfs where when they do their backhands, and the ball is going five miles into the crowd because they haven't adjusted to their technique. Little things like that.
Do you prefer players to be with you in the camp, to spend more time with you so that it is easier to play your way? Or do you prefer the players to come into the camp with a bit of game time?
It's a hard question. I think the answer is there somewhere in the middle. Domestic hockey is quite different and that is not necessarily a negative thing. It's just different. It's not necessarily that hockey is played that way internationally. Things like eleven men in the defence, internationally it's a given that a striker needs to be on the tackle as well. Sometimes you don't get that when they go back (to domestic hockey).
The other thing, and this is not unique to India, there will be players who'll be playing almost full time. In other words, they won't be getting rest. So therefore, you end up developing strategies that are not good. You don't run back this time, so you want to save yourself for the next ball. It's those little habits that creep in which are difficult.
India begin their 2023 FIH Men's Hockey World Cup campaign against Spain on January 13th, 7PM. It will be broadcast on the Star Sports Network and live-streamed on Disney+ Hotstar.