Goal scorer Harmanpreet Singh (left) and coach Graham Reid speak to the media from Tokyo on Thursday, August 5, 2021.
After today, hockey will no longer be a sport that has just nostalgic value in India. It is a fast, modern sport, and India proved it has contemporary relevance in it by defeating Germany 5-4 in a torrid bronze-medal playoff at the Tokyo Olympics earlier today (August 5, 2021). It was India’s first hockey medal at the Games since 1980, when the team won the gold medal.
Hours after the achievement that triggered exultation all over the country, coach Graham Reid and two of the day’s goal-getters, Harmanpreet Singh and Simranjeet Singh, spoke to journalists on Zoom. Behind them, the Indian tri-colour was fastened to a cream wall.
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Harmanpreet spoke little, and Simranjeet joined the interaction late. As a result, Reid, 57, had to do most of the talking.
A muscular Aussie bearing some resemblance to Kelsey Grammer of ‘Frasier’, Reid spoke about the approach of the team during the tournament as well as today. Some of his statements could well be picked up by corporate strategists and management gurus.
“You have to dare to lose to be able to win,” Reid said of India’s bold, attacking display against Germany, even after going down 3-1 at one stage. “You have to put some risks out there. You have to be aggressive.”
India’s start on Thursday was somnolent. Germany took a second minute lead through Timur Oruz. Though Simranjeet equalized in the 17th minute, Germany went up 3-1 after strikes by Niklas Wellen and Benedikt Furk. But India did well to pull one back through Hardik Singh and go into half-time with their morale up.
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Upon resuming play, Harmanpreet, Rupinder Pal Singh and Simranjeet were on target for India. Lukas Windfeder brought Germany back to 4-5 but India held their nerve to win.
“The pacemaker has kicked in again,” Reid joked about the relief of emerging unscathed from the frenetic last seconds, when Germany got a penalty corner, and all of India experienced what Ravi Shastri would describe as something from the nether regions moving up the anatomy.
Reid kept it less scandalous.
“It was a fantastic performance apart from the first seven or eight minutes, when we were a little bit asleep I think, and you could tell from the very first whistle that they (Germany) were very pumped,” he said. “After that, pretty much the next three quarters, we were switched on. Being 3-1 down after losing the semis, most teams would struggle a bit mentally, but it showed where the group was today when we came back to 2-3 and then 3-3 and then 5-3.”
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India were prepared for a brutal game, and Reid’s invocation to the players before they took the field was to find another gear when things got tough.
“There was no doubt that during a game like today you were going to get into trouble,” Reid said. “We talked before the game that we need to find the next level when things go bad, and that’s what I think you saw today, (the team) digging deep, trying to play fast, aggressive, attacking hockey, and it paid off today.”
When asked what he said to the players at half-time, Reid hinted that dramatic speeches or wordplay are often lost on players, and they are more likely to remember simple instructions.
“As a coach you come up with some things, and you craft it at half time and you say ‘Ok, that sounds really good’. And then you ask the players, ‘What did I say at half time?’ and they have no idea what you said,” Reid admitted.
Harmanpreet, a man of few words, at least during the press conference, said, “The coach shows confidence in us (during half-time). Even among players, we tell each other to believe in ourselves, to believe in all the hard work we have done rather than worry that we are losing.”
Reid had also shown them a picture of the bronze medal during their preparation, and asked them to visualize it around their necks. And then to remind themselves of what they had to do to make that vision a reality.
After about half an hour into the press conference, Reid and the players got up from their seats. They had to leave for the ceremony, where they would receive their priceless medals, each weighing about half a kilo. Some burdens are of the pleasant kind. Coach Graham Reid with the Indian men's hockey team for the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo via ANI)