Exclusive: The hockey team needs to have strong situational awareness at Tokyo 2020, says Olympian MM Somaya
India's hockey teams have had contrasting results so far at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but their performances on the ground against prominent opponents have been well received for the most part by fans back home.
One individual who has commended the hockey contingent’s efforts is Maneyapanda Muthanna Somaya, better known as MM Somaya, a member of the last Indian men's team that won Olympic gold at Moscow 1980.
The former Olympian and Arjuna award winner sat down for a conversation with SportsAdda, talking about topics ranging from the pressure of representing India at the Summer Games to critical areas that can improve the Indian contingent’s performances at Tokyo 2020.
According to Somaya, the Indian men's and women's hockey teams have grown in strength over the years, with fitness being one of their strongest attributes heading into Tokyo 2020.
Somaya touched upon the two key factors plaguing the Indian hockey team’s mindset heading into the Olympic Games.
“The way I look at it, there are two reasons. One is the ceremony and the grandeur of the Olympic Games, the symbolism, history and tradition attached. The attention the Olympics receives can make the players conscious about participating in the Summer Games,” Somaya said.
He also emphasised a critical difference between India and other major hockey forces such as Australia, Netherlands and Great Britain.
“The top-ranked teams do not send out their best 16 players in tournaments like the Asian Games and Asian championships - which are build-up events in the Olympic cycle. The Indian team, on the other hand, is used to sending many of our first teams to competitions like the Champions League or the FIH Pro League.”
With the 7-1 loss to Australia at Tokyo 2020 Olympics, India suffered its worst defeat since being humbled 6-1 by Australia in Montreal 1976.
In MM Somaya's view, however, India, who have beaten teams from their group in previous events, will take confidence from those matches and excel in subsequent games, as they demonstrated against Spain.
“Definitely. We have gone into this tournament with that (positive) frame of mind. I would look at (the) game against Australia as an aberration. I think besides Australia, we should look at all the teams in the eye and face them with confidence"
"I think all the other games would be good from here on, and I am positive that the team will improve with every passing game," he said.
While discussing the Indian hockey team’s performances at Tokyo 2020, Somaya stressed the importance of match-management if India aims to secure a medal finish.
“While instructions would go before the match from the team management, the captain and a couple of senior players have to call the shots on the field. It's difficult from the outside to assess when is the best time to hold possession, counter-attack or play at pace, so it depends on the game situation,” the Olympian said.
“That situational awareness comes with a little experience where you can judge when is the best moment to pull back and hold possession and when is the best occasion to attack. We need to communicate well and assess the situation while the play is on,” Somaya added.
The Indian hockey team is known for its attacking style of play and MM Somaya mentioned it as one of their core strengths. But, the 62-year-old was quick to emphasise the need to keep possession, especially in fixtures against Australia or their upcoming games against Argentina and hosts Japan.
“I think we need to play to our strengths. Though the team improved in terms of fitness by leaps and bounds, we cannot play through (the same) pace as Germany and Netherlands in 60 minutes,” he said.
“So I feel we should hold possession for some spells in the match without conceding easily. Because that will save energy as well as break the rhythm of the opponent,” Somaya added.
Featured photo: Twitter / Hockey India