Harendra Singh has the hopes of a nation resting on his shoulders. The Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 is the moment that hockey fans in India hope to see their nation topping the hockey world once more.
And as Head Coach, Singh is the man responsible for leading his squad of talented and mercurial players to the podium.
It is a challenge the experienced Indian seems to be relishing: “I think when any coach is appointed as a national coach, it’s bound to put pressure on him or her.
But most important for me is living in the present and not thinking too much ahead. For me, I always enjoy the pressure because when we take the toughest decision, it’s always taken in the best interest of the team.”
Just two months ago, India were firm favourites to win the Asian Games but the team fell foul of an inspired Malaysian performance in the semi-finals, losing on shoot-out.
India took bronze, beating rivals Pakistan 2-1, but would have been disappointed not to have contested the gold medal.
“What happened at the Asian Games was unfortunate,” says Singh, adding “We are hurt that we could not finish with a gold medal.
Nonetheless, the tournament was a big learning curve for all of us. Losing the match (against Malaysia) in the final few minutes after holding on to the lead, should not be repeated in coming tournament and we are working on it as a team and as individuals.”
The pressure that the team will come under as they enter the stadium for the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2018 will be immense.
While it means a cauldron for their opposition, for the India players, there is a huge weight of expectation. How will they cope?
“I think the most important thing is to enjoy the home advantage and show the players’ calibre and skill in front of the home crowd.
Not many players get this opportunity and they are aware that they must earn their place in the World Cup squad to be able to experience the feeling of playing in front of the home crowd.
In terms of preparations, we need to stick to our basics and stick to the simple hockey philosophy which suits our playing style.
“We have all discussed this issue and decided as a team that we will be taking the best available options rather than going for spectacular passes and or skill.
We need to know how to enjoy the crowd support while keeping emotions in check. I have also impressed upon the players the need to focus on the present and not the outcome.”
This is Singh’s third world cup in a coaching capacity but as he says: “Coaching in front of your home crowd will always add masala (spice) to the occasion.”
India (FIH Hero World Ranking:5) open their Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup campaign with a Pool C clash against South Africa (WR:15) on the first day of competition. Also in their pool are Belgium (WR:3) and Canada (WR:11).