Squad's got a good blend of youth and experience, says Fulton

The South African has picked a largely experienced squad who will be looking for an upgrade from the bronze they won in Tokyo three years ago.
Last Updated : 01 July 2024, 15:30 IST

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Bengaluru: After leading an India hockey team in turmoil to gold at the Asian Games in Hangzhou last year, coach Craig Fulton now embarks upon his biggest assignment next month– the Paris Olympics. Given the magnitude of the event, it was not surprising to see the South African pick a largely experienced squad who will be looking for an upgrade from the bronze they won in Tokyo three years ago.

Following an intense practice session at the SAI Centre, Fulton spoke to DH about the team selection, the rocky build-up phase that has seen India fluff the lines against Australia and in the Pro League recently and why he believes so strongly on a defensive game. Excerpts.

Looking at the squad chosen for the Paris Olympics, it seems experience has been given more importance with 11 having played at Tokyo?

I think the philosophy was based how do we improve the Asian Games squad because there was a test and a challenge and we had to do it and we did it well. But considering that India hadn't won gold in the Asian Games for the last two attempts, it was nice to do that and then yeah we've had a lot of games and competitions to get to this point and we've also exposed a lot of younger players to the programme. It is an experienced group. I think we have a nice blend of youth and experience. Some of the debutants that haven't played the Olympics before have been key members of our squad for the last 18 months or so. I've only been here just over a year, so they've really shone in that time. I think we've got a good balance with cover if we do have any injuries.

The build-up to Paris Olympics hasn’t been great with zero wins during the Australia tour and a poor show at Pro League in Antwerp and London. Is it concerning?

We were 10 points away from winning the Pro League. But at the same time we had some really close games in Rourkela and Bhubaneswar. And then the last block in England was tough. That was close. But you know what, at the same time, if we do well in the Olympics and when we do well in the Olympics, this would have been the foundation for that. We are very competitive. It's about finishing games as well and about starting games. We kind of, as a team, for whatever reason, have conceded early and then we come back. But previous to this, we didn't do that. So it's something that's standing out. When we sort that out, I think we'll be nice and competitive.

You’re a coach who lays strong emphasis on defence, quite the opposite of the India way of playing. In the year you’ve been in charge, have you been able to embed it into the players’ minds?

I think even though the results didn't show it, I think we were really on the right track coming out of Australia and going into the first block (of Pro League games). We had a poor game against Belgium first upfront but the rest of those games were really strong defensively and yeah the philosophy is definitely in the DNA of the team and it's now about rekindling that flame and getting it right on the forefront of everything we do. I think offence wins games, but defence wins championships, so it's something that you consistently need to have.

There was a lot of buzz about Araijit Singh Hundal, gived his height and ability to take shots early. But he wasn’t picked, your thoughts?

It was very close. He was in consideration. He’s young and his time will come.

There are concerns still in the penalty corner department with skipper Harmanpreet Singh blowing hot and cold. Are you worried?

I think we'll be a different team coming into that section of the game. We have different plans.

PR Sreejesh and Manpreet Singh will be competing in their fourth Olympics. Your thought about the achievement?

You know, because you don't get to that point unless you are fully, fully committed in everything you do and sacrifice everything for the team, individually and collectively to get to this point because it's a demanding sport. You have to keep adding new things to your repertoire to stay in the best condition and also add new skills. They've done fantastically well and both are previous captains so they have great experience and they have the lows and highs of Olympics. You know because not everyone goes to the Olympics and wins. It's very very difficult.

Published 01 July 2024, 15:30 IST

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