Hockey: India's new coach Craig Fulton can use Pro League to imprint his ideology on team : The Tribune India

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Hockey: India's new coach Craig Fulton can use Pro League to imprint his ideology on team

Hockey: India's new coach Craig Fulton can use Pro League to imprint his ideology on team

Over the last few years, India have developed into a high-pressing, counterattacking side with a highly effective penalty corner routine. File



Tribune News Service

Indervir Grewal

Chandigarh, May 25

India’s new coach Craig Fulton has a clear idea about how he wants the team to play. A coach who “sees the glass half full”, the 48-year-old likes to build his team off a solid defence.

“I like to defend to win so l’d like to have a solid defensive structure because that’s the first step of attacking,” Fulton said. “If we try to play a counterattacking style, it doesn’t help if we can’t defend so we would never win the ball back,” the South African added.

Fulton, though, realises he cannot make too many changes too quickly — only three months are left for the Asian Games, where a gold medal would get India a direct ticket to the Paris Olympics. “It will take a bit of time to imprint my ideology on the team, but it is important to harness the DNA of the team,” he said.

Fulton described the team’s DNA as “fast, skillful, connected, counterattacking” hockey, with its strength being the “set-pieces”.

Over the last few years, India have developed into a high-pressing, counterattacking side with a highly effective penalty corner routine. The transition from defence to attack is swift as the team’s tendency is to quickly move the ball forward and then rely on individual stick skills to create penalty corners.

India have achieved great success with this style — winning bronze at the Tokyo Games to end a four-decade wait for an Olympics medal. But they have also had many setbacks over this period.

India’s high intensity game characterised by a single-paced attacking approach has also been a handicap at times as they are not always able to control the game even against a ‘weaker’ opponent. India’s inability to kill games has cost them at the big stage — they were beaten by Malaysia in the semifinals of the 2018 Asian Games and by New Zealand in the crossovers of this year’s World Cup. On both occasions, India couldn’t protect their lead against a lower-ranked team.

Fulton is aware of the challenges ahead, highlighting the need for adapting. “The high press is in their DNA. India are fantastic at turning over the ball, with their ability to intercept and quickly move the ball into space. But we also need to get confident at playing half court and defending deeper,” he said.

A German lesson

With India playing eight Pro League games against four top teams, Fulton can take a leaf out of Germany’s book and try out his ideas in the European leg. Germany used the previous season as a platform for experimentation on their way to winning the World Cup title.

Germany, for long, was known as a defensive-minded team, which relied on set-pieces to break the deadlock and then used its strong possession game to kill the contest. But after losing its relevance in the fast-changing game dominated by attacking teams like Belgium, who brought to prominence the zonal defence and aerial passing, Germany went into the Tokyo Olympics as an attacking team. Their game, however, lacked variation, the ability to adapt and composure. So, last year, under a new coach, Germany tried out different strategies – they counterattacked from deep defence or used the high press; they played through the midfield using short and fast passes or heavily depended on long aerial balls — in the Pro League.

It made them tactically adept and mentally prepared to handle different situations. It proved the biggest difference between Germany losing the Tokyo Games bronze to India despite leading 3-1 and winning the World Cup gold after registering three come-from-behind wins.

For India, it was the lack of discipline and mental strength that led to the sharp decline from winning the Olympics medal to finishing ninth at the World Cup in less than two years’ time.

Fulton, who was known for his positivity during his successful stints with Ireland and Belgium, will need to instill belief in the team again. “It is my personality. I never see my team ever being dead in a contest. Even if we lose, I don’t see it as a defeat but the time running out on us,” Fulton said.

“The team has all the ingredients. It is more a case of really being composed enough to execute it,” he added.

About The Author

The Tribune News Service brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune News Service for a wide-ranging coverage of events as they unfold, with perspective and clarity.

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