Hockey: What can India do to beat Australia? Hire ex-Aussie star Chris Ciriello to reveal it all

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A file picture of Chris Ciriello during his time with the Australian national hockey team, the Kookaburras

Bengaluru, March 14: What's the best way for the Indian men's hockey team to break its losing jinx against Australia? Head coach Sjoerd Marijne came up with a workable solution - hire an ex-Australian player to get a sense of the nuances of the Kookaburras' game and use it against them in major tournaments. After all, India have gone down in the Commonwealth Games twice - in 2010 and 2014 - to Australia and they just can't seem to figure out a way against the World No 1 side in other tournaments too. Enter Chris Ciriello, part of the Australian team that beat in 2010 and 2014, who Marijne has hired as the analytical coach for Manpreet Singh & Co.

Ciriello also had smashed three penalty corners in that 4-0 win against India in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Who better than he?

As the analytical coach of the Indian team, Ciriello will work close with drag-flickers Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinderpal Singh, Varun Kumar, Dipsan Tirkey and others to improve the conversion rate of penalty corners. India failed to convert any of their nine penalty corners against England in the recently-concluded Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where they finished a disappointing fifth. Drag-flicking apart, Marijne says "Ciriello will develop leaders out of every player in the team".

"There are 33 different types of skill between the pick up and release," Ciriello explains. "It is about having the right routine, being consistent and also being able to perform under pressure. It is not only about the drag flickers. The ball must be injected well, I am working with that. It must be up by another 5 to 10 kms. The trap has to be 100 percent clean and there are other variations, movements we are working on."

Ciriello feels the results will show up at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games from April 4-15. India are placed in Pool B along with Pakistan, Malaysia, Wales, England and will begin their campaign on April 7 against Pakistan. Incidentally, Pakistan is coached by former India coach Roelant Oltmans and Ciriello's role becomes that crucial in Australia.

"Drag flicking is very unique skill. Some guys are 6'4, 5'4, so the technique needs to be worked on, also increase speed and accuracy," Ciriello said. "Bobby (Rupinderpal) has good speed, Harmanpreet has good speed. We will work on some more deceptions. They can flick hard, but between flicking here and flicking here, it is two different things. So we will build pressure. During flicking we will have different targets that they will have to be hit. They will have to perform under pressure, so when they come to big events the focus is only on the ball."

The role is made-for-Ciriello because of his knowledge of Indian culture. His mother was born in Kolkata (then named Calcutta) and the 32-year-old was also a regular member of the Punjab Warriors in the Hockey India League.

"I have coached since I was 18," Ciriello added. "I have also coached in first division (men and women), second division in Perth. I have coached a lot of players and also kids. I have done all that stuff. I felt this (taking up the role) will be a good experience. My mother was born in India. I have played in the HIL. I understand the process, the culture. I grew up playing in the anglo-Indian club so I understand the way how things work. For me it was also having a good chance to improve guys. I have played with most of the guys and I can help them improve."

Story first published: Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 17:47 [IST]
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