The fine art of flicking

The fine art of flicking

The fine art of flicking

A major scoring avenue in hockey is through penalty corners. You can easily sense the happiness when teams earn it, for they know they have a genuine chance of striking the net. India had lagged behind in this department before finally finding a few potent exponents of the special art called drag-flick but of late they've been found wanting in that area too.

There were misses galore during the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar last December with both Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh erring on many an occasion. While the seasoned Rupinder was still feeling his way back into the side after missing six months due to a hamstring injury, talented youngster Harmanpreet couldn't quite take that big step forward.

With a host of major events lined up in an action-packed season and aware how important drag-flick is to the team's fortunes, Hockey India have turned to a familiar foe for help - Chris Ciriello. The Indian team has been at the receiving end of the brawny Australian's brutality - he scored in the final of the 2010 Commonwealth Games and then hammered a hat-trick in the 2014 title decider as well. Not just India, but many top sides have found Ciriello - nicknamed The Big Dog - hard to contain. Heeding to High Performance Director David John's advice, HI have roped in Ciriello to try and get the Indian drag-flickers to his level.

"My mother was born in India. I have played in the Hockey India League. I understand the process, the culture. I grew up playing in an Anglo-Indian club, so I understand how things work here," said Ciriello when asked what prompted him to take up coaching assignment with India. "I have coached since I was 18 years old. I have also coached in first division (men and women), second division in Perth. I have coached a lot of players and also kids. I have done all that stuff. So, I am not new to coaching.

"For me, coming here was a good chance to improve the guys. I have played with most of the guys and I can help them improve. I also saw it as an opportunity to really enjoy and go and do a different job. We have already started team building exercises and made the training competitive as well."

Ciriello, who scored a hat-trick in the 2014 World Cup final against the Netherlands, felt the Indian drag-flickers have the potential but lack consistency. "I think there is a lot of potential. It is about having the right routine, being consistent and also being able to perform under pressure. It is okay to flick when you are one or two goals up but when you are one goal down and five minutes to go, or you are in the final, these are the times when you need to make sure that you execute (without fail). It is not only about the drag-flickers. The ball must be injected well, I am working on that aspect. The speed must increase by another 5 to 10 kms. The trap has to be 100 percent clean and there are other variations, movements we are working on. There are 33 different types of skill between the pick-up and release, so there is lot to work on."

Ciriello also explained the areas the flickers need to focus on if they are to hit the targets consistently.

"There are always things which one can improve. Bobby (Rupinder) has good speed as does Harmanpreet. We will work on some more deceptions. They can flick hard, but between flicking here and flicking in an actual match, it is two different things. So we will build pressure. During flicking we will have different targets that they will have to hit. They will have to perform under pressure, so when they come to big events the focus is only on the ball," added the 32-year-old.

One worrying factor about Indian drag-flickers is their inability to flick low consistently. Their preferred modus operandi is aerial, presenting goalkeepers and on-rushers a good chance of pre-meditating the direction. Ciriello agreed it's an area that needs to be addressed as well.

"You have to be able to flick everywhere, but should be able to change (at the last minute). Look at any drag-flicker in the world, (Gonzalo) Peillat, he has his favourite spot. He loves to hit low, you will be able to know by the way he steps and drags the ball. We need to look into that when defending but while in attack we need to know where we are comfortable and then be able to change. Flicking low is always good."

Ciriello, who according to coach Sjoerd Marjine has been roped in full-time until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, said solid homework was behind his success and that's something he'll try instilling in the Indian team.

"Before the (2014) World Cup (final), I remember, I sat on the computer for almost four hours, looking at where the defender ran, where goalkeeper stands, everything else etc. Before the game, one must come with his homework done. I will sit with them and we will go through and see what is the best process to score goals. We need a good push, a good trap and if we do not have that, it does not matter how good the drag-flicker may be.

"We will also work on defending PCs as well. We need to improve our postmen. At the moment, it is not good. Our first runner still needs more improvement. We will want to convert every PC and defend all PCs, but it is unrealistic at both ends."



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