Mumbai: Manpreet Singh, who led India to Olympic medal after four decades in Tokyo last year, returns as captain of a full-strength Indian men’s hockey team for the 2022 Commonwealth Games at Birmingham starting later this month.
The team faces a Herculean task as India have never won gold in Commonwealth Games men’s hockey since the sport made its debut in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur. Indian men had finished fourth in Gold Coast in 2018.
India are in Pool B with England, Canada, Wales and Ghana. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Scotland comprise the tougher Pool A in the 10-team competition.
In an interview with IANS, Manpreet talks about the challenges the team faces in Commonwealth Games. Excerpts:
Q: How have the preparations gone so far?
A: We have had a good camp at Bengaluru where we worked on our fitness and other aspects of the game. We have played some tough matches against strong teams in the Pro League and that has given us an indication of the areas in that we need to work further.
We will have a hectic year next year too, we have the World Cup, the Asian Games, which have been postponed and the Pro League. We are also planning for the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games is an important stop on that route. But the main focus this year is on the Commonwealth Games.
Q: What is your assessment of the team’s performance in the Pro League 2021-22?
A: The team did well in the Pro League — we finished third in the standings. Though we did not end the Pro League on a strong note and had some setbacks against Belgium and the Netherlands towards the end, they are very strong teams. Overall it helped us polish our game and give opportunities to some young players.
Q: The Indian men’s team has never won the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games so far. Do you think you guys will be able to win your maiden gold in Birmingham?
A: We will try our best. There are a lot of hurdles. All the players are confident of doing well in the Commonwealth Games. Topping the Pool and making it to the semifinals is our first aim and we will take things as they come after that. We can’t take any team lightly. England will be our main opponent in Pool A while Canada is also a good team. We don’t know much about Ghana but as I said earlier, at this stage we can’t take any team lightly. We had a similar experience against Wales in the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast (India won 4-3 in a tough match). We are confident of putting up our best performance.
Q: What is the reason that India have not done as well in Commonwealth Games as compared to the Olympics and Asian Games?
A: There are various reasons — it is a tough competition (with teams like Australia, New Zealand, England, and Pakistan in the fray) and always followed by the Asian Games and the World Cup is also held in the same year.
Q: You are returning as captain at the Commonwealth Games. What are your personal goals for Birmingham?
A: The aim is to be fit and play all the matches and perform to the best of my ability, to help the team play to its potential. I have no personal goals as such.