Fitness is the main priority for Indian hockey.

ACT HOCKEY: Coach Fulton says there is still a lot of work to do in the team.

Aug 14, 2023 - 20:26
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Fitness is the main priority for Indian hockey.
The Indian Hockey Team

The Indian men's hockey team lifted the Asian Champions Trophy for the fourth time as it continues its progress under new coach Craig Fulton with the Asian Games title and an Olympic spot as the next big target. The final against Malaysia, coming back from being two goals down to win 4-3, was the toughest test for the team through the competition and augurs well for the future. It also gives Fulton a better idea of the boxes the team has already ticked in his brief three-month tenure and the ones that still need work. 

The biggest positive for the Indians would be the confidence that they can turn the game around even at the end and have the legs to push any team hard all the way. "Even if you are two or three goals up, you still have to be fit enough to manage them coming at you, taking their goalkeeper off, playing with an extra man. So fitness is probably one of the main priorities of the game we are playing at the moment. " We can still get fitter and stronger, but I think the biggest positive is that, mentally, you start to believe that you have another gear, "Fulton admitted after the dramatic final that saw Malaysia race ahead and take control early on before India regrouped and pushed back towards the end of the 3rd quarter. 

The fact that the Indians barely had any recovery time-playing 11 matches in two continents over 19 days- and still doing well for itself reflects well on the team's resilience and ability to play at a high level continuously. There were errors, of course, especially in the final when lapses in the defence led to two of the Malaysian goals, but it is to the team's credit that it bounced back from them. Fulton's style of coaching - " I don't do a lot of coaching from the sidelines but during training, that's where the ideas are installed. Maybe there were a few things that have to change during the match but it is up to the senior players to take a call, " he declared - has also helped the players take decisions on the field and take responsibility for those calls. 

This has led to younger players stepping up and being counted even when the seniors were having an off day. Jugraj Singh and Varun Kumar have shared drag-flicking responsibilities in the absence of Harmanpreet Singh on the field and the likes of Selvam Karthi, Shamsher Singh and Sukhjeet Singh stepped forward when Hardik Singh or Mandeep Singh faltered. The ACT also saw Manpreet Singh's second coming as the former captain displayed his brilliance as a playmaker with both control and anticipation. While the fitness has been proven time and again, the team's ability to be disciplined and calm under pressure has been tested repeatedly. 

That's where the presence of Paddy Upton will become will become important in the days to come. Even in the ACT, there were times when the Indians ended up penalised and being a man or two down during crucial moments, something that will be punished under tougher conditions by better teams. "Finals are cagier and they never go smooth. It always comes down to a moment or the shootouts. So It's important to have a game like this because that really counts. Malaysia raised its game, it got control of the first half. We did not do badly, we were just 100 percent in what we were trying to do. We knew if we could get one, we could get two. It didn't go well in the first half but we turned it around, and that's character", he added. 

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