Four impressive successive wins in Hockey Pro League 2022-2023 home games have helped Indian men’s hockey jump to the fourth place in the latest FIH World Ranking but for captain Harmanpreet Singh it doesn’t matter much to his team as players prioritise to convert their chances and create pressure on the opposition team rather than thinking about rankings.
After a hat-trick of wins, the Indian team remained unbeaten as they put up a resilient performance against Australia in the last home game in the FIH Hockey Pro League, registering a 2-2 (4-3 SO) win, here on Wednesday night.
Before this, India beat reigning World Champions Germany 3-2 and 6-3 followed by a 5-4 win against Australia, in their last game.
India’s outstanding feat in Rourkela has put them on top of the pool standing in the FIH Hockey Pro League. The team now leads the chart with 19 points from eight matches and are ahead of Spain, which have 17 points from eight games, followed by Argentina in the third position with 13 points from 12 games. Reigning World Champions Germany have been pushed to no.4 in the pool standing with 11 points after 8 matches.
The result has also helped India climb up the FIH World Ranking, having beaten teams ranked higher than them. India was ranked no.6 when they began their campaign at home, while Germany was ranked No.1 and Australia ranked No.4, ahead of this year’s Pro League outing. The Indian side is now ranked 4th in the world behind reigning World Champions Germany, which have dropped to 3rd in the recently updated FIH world ranking.
“I think these things (world ranking) don’t matter to us so much. We don’t keep this in mind when we play. Our only priority was to convert our chances and keep the pressure on the opponent. Some of the youngsters who got an opportunity to show their talent also stood up to the occasion and did very well for themselves as well as the team”, said Harmanpreet, who is currently the leading goal-scorer in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2022-2023 with 11 goals, ahead of Belgium’s Alexander Hendrickx with six goals.
The ace frag-flicker also said that the world’s largest-seated Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium is indeed ‘lucky’ for India as the team has never lost a match here.
“We are happy to keep our record intact here in Rourkela. We haven’t lost a single match here in this magnificent stadium. Definitely, the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium is very lucky for us. When you get so much love and encouragement from fans, we want to go out there and win every single game,” said skipper Harmanpreet, who scored twice in India’s tense shootout victory on Wednesday
Adding to the team’s options in the forward line in a crucial year with Olympic qualification at stake, Selvam Karthi and Sukhjeet’s performance has been noteworthy. Karthi is now the fourth highest goal-scorer in the FIH Hockey Pro League while Sukhjeet and Abhishek are 7th and 8th leading scorers respectively.
“There are many positive takeaways for us from this outing here in Rourkela which will hold us in good stead as we prepare for the upcoming Asian Games,” the skipper was quoted as saying in a media release.
Another big factor that contributed to the team’s success in these matches in Rourkela was the team’s improved on-field communication and decisive video referrals, including the crucial one taken by goalkeeper Sreejesh during the penalty shootout.
“Yes, the referral taken by Sreejesh was absolutely critical to our win. He has years of experience and understands the updated rules of the game but even some of the other video referrals by our team in crucial moments of the match were very important, this is something we work on even in our training. On-field communication was also much better this time, and we will continue to build on this,” Harmanpreet concluded.
The Indian team will travel to New Delhi from Rourkela on Thursday for the 5th Hockey India Annual Awards, scheduled to be held on March 17, following which the team will get a two-week break before they reassemble in the National Coaching Camp.