New Delhi, Feb 15: India Hockey captain Manpreet Singh is upbeat with the team's performance in the Four Nations Invitational Tournament despite going down to Belgium in the final but feels even his place in the team isn't safe if he doesn't perform well.
Speaking exclusively to Mykhel on the sidelines of the Indian Hockey team's new jersey launch the 25-year-old halfback said, "There is stiff competition in the team and everyone will have to give their best to earn a spot in the side. Even my place in the team isn't secure if I do not perform well, so performance is the only criteria for a player to get selected," said Manpreet.
At the event on Thursday Indian Hockey got a new sponsor as the Odisha Government was named as the official sponsors of the Indian Men's and Women's Hockey team for the next five years. Manpreet who was present at the event added further that the team is looking in good shape and is ready to take on any kind of challenge but they are not going to be complacent at the same time.
"We are ready for any challenge, we have done well in the past and 2017 was overall a satisfactory year for us. Hopefully, in the run-up to the World Cup, that we are going to play at home, we'll maintain the same intensity and win the Cup. But before that we have some great tournaments lined up like Sultan Azlan Shah, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. So, we are going to give our best in these events as well.
When asked how crucial is the year 2018 going to be for the team he said,"Obviously, this is going to be very important for Indian Hockey. We started on a positive note in our first assignment with the four-nation series in New Zealand, despite going down against Belgium in the final. Overall, it was a great learning experience as we succeeded in achieving our target of improving our game. The team management had decided to give some opportunities to the youngsters and they did a commendable job whenever they got an opportunity."
Talking about the upcoming major assignments, the skipper said the forthcoming Azlan Shah Cup will be a good practice for the boys ahead of Commonwealth Games.
"We are going to face teams like Australia, Great Britain and Argentina in the annual tournament (held in Malaysia) there. Thus, it will be a good experience for us in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games. We can't afford to take any team lightly in the Commonwealth Games.
Asked about their performance in the last year's Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where India finished third while Great Britain - invited after Pakistan pulled off - went on winning the trophy, Manpreet said it's time to move on and focus on the future instead of cribbing about the defeats in the past.
"It's a thing of the past, we should now focus on the future games instead of crying over the past. If we talk about last year then we had made a lot of changes in the side and a lot of youngsters were fielded. So at that time, we were also testing our team and that was a reason for us finishing third. Despite that our overall performance was satisfying and we hope this year we'll put our best foot forward and get some positive results."
India conceded a lot of goals in the recent tour of New Zealand and the skipper admitted the fact that coach Sjoerd Marijne and the boys are on the same page that they need to work on their defence.
"Yes, this is the area where the coach has asked us to improve for we did concede a lot of goals in New Zealand. Even in our ongoing and forthcoming camps, we are going to work on strengthening our defence and honing our goal scoring skills.
On being asked about how the team is going to play when the coach wants the boys to play attacking and this team is lagging behind in its defence, the Jalandhar-lad said, "The coach has a set of a pattern for us and how are we going forward. The game, nowadays, is very fast so our priority is to keep ourselves fit because a lot depends on fitness now. And secondly, the more guys are alert and prepared in the defence cordon the more successful we will be.
"One of the best things about this coach is that he's very friendly and has gelled up very well with the boys in such a short span of time. He gives vital inputs to each and every player and asks everyone to take up their responsibilities.
When asked about the role of senior-pros like SV Sunil, Sardar Singh, PR Sreejesh and their future, the 25-year-old halfback said,"Look everyone is going to be judged on the same merit i.e. performance. This, according to me, is the best model."