A disappointed Hockey India President Dilip Tirkey on Monday, January 23, said captain Harmanpreet Singh's "sudden drop in form" was a matter of concern, though lack of penalty corner goals was not the sole reason for the home side's shock and premature exit from the FIH Men's World Cup here. India lost to New Zealand in their crossover match on Sunday in the penalty shootout after the two sides were locked 3-3 at the end of regulation time.
Tirkey said any talk regarding change of coach and captain is premature as the World Cup is going on and India are to play in the 9th to 16th classification matches. "Harmanpreet was doing very well in the FIH Pro League matches and in the (five match) Australia series just before the World Cup. We had a lot of expectation from him but suddenly dropping form in the World Cup is a matter of concern," Tirkey, one of the finest penalty corner hitters of his time, told PTI in an exclusive interview.
"There are also some up and coming drag-flickers in the team. Drag-flickers are very important in modern hockey and we will plan accordingly," added Tirkey, who had a long meeting with the team on Monday, January 23.
"Just one-and-half years back, we had won a bronze in the Olympics and then not reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup is very disappointing."
Harmanpreet took most of India's 26 penalty corners in the four matches, from which the team scored just five goals.
Harmanpreet himself converted just two PCs. "Ultimately, as I said earlier also, if we don't score more goals from penalty corners we will face issues and that was what happened yesterday," Tirkey, a former India captain who has played 412 international matches, said.
"The team's strong point was scoring from penalty corners. We had high expectation from Harmanpreet. But his flicks were not converting into goals, and we saw it from the first match to the last. Not scoring from the PCs hurt the team a lot."
Tirkey said India had gifted the crossover match to New Zealand from a winning position.
"We got enough opportunities to win the match against New Zealand. We were leading 3-1 and we could have done better in the defensive structure. After that in the shootout, both our goalkeepers did very well and gave us opportunities to win the match. But we missed the chances in the shootout also and lost the match.
"Kahi na kahi jita huwa match ko humne unko de diya hey (We have gifted the match to New Zealand from winning position)," he said.
Harmanpreet could have sealed the match for India in sudden death but he wasted the chance.
"We played aggressive hockey and we got chances (against New Zealand). We got 10 PCs and we scored just two from them, we could have scored more," Tirkey said.
"Some players from whom we had a lot of expectations, they somehow could not perform. We all have accepted it."
Tirkey, one of the best defenders of his generation, was also not happy with the performance of the defensive unit of the home side, of which Harmanpreet is the bulwark.
"If we speak about out defence, I feel there was something missing in our defensive structure, we could have done better (against New Zealand).
"We also felt the absence of Hardik Singh, he was performing very well and his injury hurt us. But we could have won the match with the players we have."
Head coach Graham Reid said on Sunday after the defeat against New Zealand that the team needs a mental conditioning coach going ahead, and Tirkey said Hockey India will do the needful.
"Whatever the team needs, we are ready to do it. Whatever the coach and the team needed, Hockey India has provided them," he said.
Asked if there will be changes in the position of coach or the captain, Tirkey said, "We will see later. The World Cup is going on and any discussion on that is not appropriate."
India will play against Japan in their first classification match in Rourkela on January 26, before taking on a yet-to-be-known opponent on January 28.
Tirkey said the team's next priority is to do well in the Asian Games, scheduled to be held this year. "Asian Games is very important for us and that is our priority before the Olympics next year," he said.
"Some players are out of the team due to injury, they will come back. Some players might not have performed well due to pressure. We will provide the team with a mental conditioning coach and we will see."