The Indian hockey team has shown considerable improvement in recent months in the build-up to the Olympics and defender Birendra Lakra believes coach Graham Reid has had a major role to play in it. India are coming off a fruitful FIH Pro League campaign, where they notched up wins against Australia and Belgium, with such wins promising to serve wonderful morale boosters in an Olympics year. Also Read - Birendra Lakra to Replace Injured Varun Kumar in Indian Men’s Team for FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers
A prime reason behind India’s wins is the aggressive brand of hockey they have displayed, for which Lakra has credited Reid. Also Read - Indian Men's Hockey Team to Play Russia in Final Round of 2020 Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers; Women's Team Pitted in Tricky Draw Against USA
“Playing aggressive and attacking hockey, pushing for goals and those important circle penetrations is the style of hockey we as a team want to play,” Lakra said. “Although chief coach Graham’s training often involves high-intensity sessions where he likes to see quality attack, he is also very clear about his expectations from the team’s defence. Graham tells us that a strong line of defence can not only win matches but also tournaments.” Also Read - Hockey: India Lose 2-5 to Australia in Final Match to End Tour on Disappointing Note
Since taking over as coach of the men’s hockey team, India, under Reid, have won 22 out of 29 games, losing four and drawing three, which is a stunning success rate. India’s strategy, which historically has relied more towards attacking, has begun focussing on its defence solidity. Furthermore, with new training methods developed, implementing a culture where players remain confident, Reid has played a huge role in lifting the spirits of the Indian team.
“In the past, there have been times when we have slipped up in defence in the final moments of the match. But I believe we have improved in this aspect over the past couple of months and the coach often says our defence starts with our forward-line,” Lakra said.
Personally, the year 2020 holds plenty of significance for Lakra, who is keen to make a mark in an Olympics year. Having missed the Rio Olympics due to a knee injury, the 30-year-old defender wants to make every moment and match count.
“I may be an experienced defender in the team but I can’t take my place for granted. Each one of us have to earn our place in the squad for Tokyo and this means we give our 100 per cent in training and matches. I was very unlucky to miss the Rio Olympics due to injury but this time I am really working hard to play the best hockey for my team,” he said.