Men’s Hockey: Manpreet, still a vital cog

Manpreet Singh may not be India’s captain any longer, but he is still at the heart of a great deal the team does on the pitch. The half-back had been appointed skipper in June last year, ahead of the HWL Semi Final in London, when P.R. Sreejesh was ruled out with a knee injury. But in the shake-up that followed India’s disappointing Commonwealth Games performance in April, Manpreet handed the armband over to Sreejesh, who was named the side’s leader till the end of the year. However, the 26-year-old remains a vital cog in midfield, linking up play, finding pockets of space, and making darting runs forward.

“Personally, I’ve never thought about the captaincy,” said Manpreet. “My first priority is to be on the pitch. If I’m playing for India, it’s a big deal for me. It makes no difference if I’m the captain or not. We’re like a family. And we will remain that way. Our philosophy is that on the field everyone is a leader in his position. Because Sreejesh cannot play up-field.”

Harendra Singh’s arrival as chief coach has also reunited Manpreet and Sardar Singh in midfield. The latter had been out of favour under Marijne and even believed his career was finished. But he has returned to the side under Harendra, a move Manpreet is pleased with. “I’ve been playing with him for seven years now and we have a ready-made understanding about who goes forward and who drops back. It’s a lot of fun to play ‘give and go’ with him. It’s easy; I know where he likes to pick the ball up and where he likes to receive it,” he said.

Manpreet and Sardar were in the thick of things again on Sunday as India trounced New Zealand 4-0 in the third and final Test at the SAI here. They took turns attacking and defending as India, which sealed the series 3-0, looked sharp in its last competitive game leading up to the Asian Games. Towards the end of the game, Manpreet even played as an auxiliary forward, and was involved in the build-up to the fourth goal.

“Harendra sir always wants me to attack,” he said. “He says, ‘Whenever you have the ball, I want you pass it forward. I want you to take risks. Feed the forwards.’ He’s given me a lot of freedom. He’s given everyone a lot of freedom.”

The result: India 4 (Rupinder Pal Singh 8, Surender Kumar 15, Mandeep Singh 44, Akashdeep Singh 60) bt New Zealand 0.

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