You know Sania Mirza. You know Vijender Singh. You know Saina Nehwal…… You definitely know Mary Kom. But do you know who is Manpreet Singh? I am Manpreet Singh… I am Sardar Singh.
This was the content of the audio-visual promo clip that was played at a glitzy function to launch the jersey and dapper-looking blazer for the Indian hockey team for the upcoming men’s world cup to be played in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, in November this year.
The marketing brains behind the promotion of the mega event in India probably went with the tried and tested method of stoking emotions to build the tournament up while promising in the same breathe that the players were determined to lift the trophy.
Incidentally, emotions, or to be more precise, the lack of control on them have been the bane of Indian hockey for years and the recent episode played out in the Asian Games when the players struggled to keep their composure in the last few minutes against Malaysia in the semi-finals.
Former star and member of India’s 1975 World Cup winning team, Ashok Kumar, made the point while addressing the current squad members when he told them that while the fans go wild when you are playing these big tournaments, the players need to control their heartbeats and focus on the job at hand.
Mind you, India did not go into the Asian Games as the runaway favourites because of the emotional support of their fans or the players were keen to get the limelight on them. The team was considered favourites because of the quality of the performance in the Champions Trophy and later in the Test series against New Zealand.
While they played like champions in the group stage, they came a cropper once Malaysia started pressing them harder and made elementary mistakes in the last few minutes to concede an equaliser and then ended up losing the match on penalties.
“During those last few minutes when the pressure builds, the players need to control their emotions… Every player has to play according to the requirement of the team and that is where we faltered,” admitted coach Harendra Singh while talking to the media after the function.
The former India international, who took over as the coach of the national team after their failure to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, said, “When the pressure is built it is the time we need to show some character and personality on the pitch. We need to work on that (ahead of the World Cup). The Indian team is second to none in the world in terms of skills and fitness. But the difference between winning and losing is about the mental thinking process and that mental fitness needs to be improved.”
He, however, ruled out taking the help of a psychologist saying there is a negative connotation attached to that process and he would instead work with the players himself to address the problem.
“If gaining confidence is the aim, then you can even consult a commoner and take motivation from him. The word psychologist itself carries a negative vibe and the players feel that they are doing something wrong for which they need to consult a psychologist,” he said on the sidelines of the team’s jersey launch.
“In any team the biggest psychologist is the coach and you yourself. If I’ll not motivate myself then no one in the world can motivate (me),” said Harendra.
India skipper Sreejesh PR was more candid in admitting that it was the lack of application that hurt the team against Malaysia. “If you see in the game against Japan also in the group stage we kept on losing the ball due to their high pressing. But we took our chances and scored. It did not happen against Malaysia and we ended up conceding a silly goal.
“However, the strength of the team can be seen from the fact that we pulled ourselves up within 24 hours and beat Pakistan to win the bronze medal,” he said, adding, “It is important for every player to treat every match the same and prepare in the same manner.”
Regarding the World Cup preparation, Harendra said the team would now have a camp with the core group before leaving for the Asian Champions Trophy.
“Look at the positive side, look at the data and then move to the World Cup, Whatever happened at the Asian Games, that’s a big learning curve for the players, coach and the staff.
“They (the team) have a lot of positive things and if we move forward with that positive mindset. We are mentally and physically capable of turning (things around),” the coach said, adding whatever happened can be erased as one bad memory when they do well at the World Cup.
But for that, the team would have to find a way to cut out the emotional catharsis that has become the central theme of all such campaigns in the recent past and focus on the job at hand.