The Indian team is playing a very aggressive brand of hockey and has got into the habit of scoring heavily in matches. But what about the defence? That aspect is also not being ignored. Amit Rohidas, the team's full back will be a key part of the defensive line-up as the team progresses towards the Olympics.
In an exclusive conversation with International Business Times, India, the full-back from Odisha talks about the improvements being brought into the team's defensive play and the ways in which the back line prepares itself for different challenges. He also describes the culture of hockey in his home state and the improvements that would further encourage young talent to come up.
You are from Odisha, a province renowned for producing great defenders. What is it about your state that it keeps producing such capable defenders?
Amit: You see, right from the childhood, I have seen that, in the Sundergarh district of Odisha, hockey is the main sport. All the players who have come out of there, from Dileep Tirkey to Ignace Tirkey, Birender Lakra to Deep Grace Ekka, all are defenders. There are barely one or two players who are midfielders or forwards.
I can also say that when we go to the training hostel, we too decide to practice as full-backs. When I joined the hostel in 2004, I was playing as a forward. I played as a forward for two years, then I chose to play as a defender. My hero was Dileep Tirkey so I was trying to follow in his footsteps.
While your team has been doing well when it comes to attacking, there has been some concerns regarding the defence. There was also a one-week camp some time ago for improving in this aspect. How are things progressing on that front?
Amit: Yes, Fergus Kavanaugh was here for one week and he has brought changes to our technique. Things like the footwork of defenders, jab tackling, movement of defenders, be it 45 or 90 degrees, has been taught to us. He also taught us how to challenge the attackers when they are moving towards and beyond the 25 yards line.
So, we got to learn a lot and are following those teachings. We are working on things like our footwork, not throwing the stick carelessly, where to use our sticks, etc. Training on all these aspects is going on.
Coach Graham Reid had talked about the need for improving counter-control. What are the most important components for that?
Amit: So, when we go for an attack, all of us move forward. When we return for defence also, all of us together move back. If the ball gets intercepted, by mistake, in the midfield or the last 25 and the opponents attack, we have one or two full-backs to counter them. They have to decide where they have to go and where to take position.
If the full-back goes for a tackle and gets beaten, then the attacker will have an open field in front of him. So, we calmly block the attacker on one side and push him towards the sidelines to delay him until the other players come up.
How is your equation with other defenders in the team?
Amit: I have played a lot of tournaments with players like Birender Lakra, Harmanpreet Singh, Surender Kumar and Kothajit Singh. All of us are working together. Before the match, we have a discussion about how to play on the day, what to do, what not to do, etc.
That's how we prepare and tell ourselves to not be rushed. We also plan how to calmly deal with all the pressure that will be exerted by the opposition through pulling back and getting the ball out through the sides. All this is decided in the meeting of defenders before the match.
Does your strategy of defence change according to the opposition since every team has a different style and different types of attackers?
Amit: Our coach tells us what the plan is before the match in the team meeting. 'What should the forwards do, what should the midfielders do, what should the defenders do?' All this is told. But our strategy remains the same. It changes just slightly.
For example, if there is an exceptional forward in the opposing team, we have to figure out how to mark him, how to tackle him, what is his dodging style, through video analysis.
So, if we are playing Netherlands, 'How do their forwards operate, do they use 3-D skills, how do they dodge,' we try to find out. Similarly, if we are playing Belgium, we defenders will sit together and study their forwards to work out a strategy that we then follow in the match.
Which forward in world hockey have you found most difficult to deal with?
Amit: Till now, one of the Belgian forwards who uses a lot of body play, I consider him a very good player.
Tell us about yourself, how you got into hockey and at what age did you first get introduced to the game?
Amit: In my village, there was no other game apart from hockey. I started at a very young age as my father was also playing the sport. I used to take his stick and play around with it. Slowly, through consistent struggle, I became better.
In 2004, I got the opportunity to go to Australia. My coach Bijay Lakra trained me very well. After that, I kept improving at a steady pace and in 2009, I played in the under-18 Asia Cup in Myanmar. Following that, I continued to improve and in 2011, I made it to the senior side.
You said that in your village, hockey is the only sport that is played...
Amit: In Sundergarh district, there is nothing except for Hockey.
Did you have a hero or role model while growing up?
Amit: I look up to Dileep Tirkey and I have tried to follow his style. Currently, there is Ignace bhai and Birender bhai whom I admire. I have done a lot of camps with these two.
The government of your state has been promoting hockey quite vigorously. How is the infrastructure in your district? Would you like more improvement?
Amit: You see, recently, an announcement was made by the state government that there is a plan to have one astro turf ground in every district and block. According to me, this would improve things even more and create more craze among children for hockey. They will become more interested in playing the game. Currently, there are only a few astro turf fields in the state. So, the government is trying to develop the facilities even more.