India were far from perfect in Bhubaneswar but still pulled off a thrilling comeback win against New Zealand to begin their 2022-23 FIH Pro League campaign. Mandeep Singh scored a brace in the final quarter to turn the game around and clinch all three points in India's favour. While head coach Graham Reid will be happy with the victory, there's no doubt that he would want to make improvements before the next match against Spain on Sunday.
Here are some areas he would have noticed:
The defence is a big problem area for this Indian team. Reid spoke about the issue before the match and also during the game, using the word 'basics' to state his point across both times. Basics, in the sense that India should've done a lot better in terms of closing the gaps and tightening the spaces. New Zealand attacked India from all sides, they were able to bypass the midfield with ease and created chances.
New Zealand had 11 shots on target, two more than India and penetrated the circle 21 times, three more than their opponents. The frustrating part for Reid would be that India did defend well in the first quarter but then lost their way.
Penalty corners were another area where India struggled, both in terms of earning and conceding them. In the whole match, they earned just one penalty corner, which was poorly executed, and then gave away nine.
If you have a world class dragflick specialist in Harmanpreet Singh, who scored 14 goals from penalty corners last season in the Pro League, six more than his closest competitor, then you should be doing everything to involve him and his skills in the match.
Winning just one penalty corner in the entire match is just poor and Reid knows that Harmanpreet is his most crucial player going into the World Cup. Against Spain, the Indian team should make sure that Harmanpreet gets more chances to score from the penalty corners.
PR Sreejesh vs. Krishan Pathak is not exactly a battle for the goalkeeping spot, especially since Reid uses both the goalkeepers each quarter alternatively. However, against New Zealand, Pathak was the more impressive of the two. He produced five crucial saves in the match and kept India in the match with his solid effort in the fourth quarter when both teams went hard on the offensive.
Meanwhile, Sreejesh should've done better in the opening match. New Zealand's second and third goals were very much within his range of saves. The third goal, a penalty corner conversion where the ball went between his legs, ought to have disappointed Sreejesh because it could've been game over for India.
The fact that Pathak had a good match bodes well with India's long-term plan of having two equally good goalkeepers in the team. One bad game is not a cause for concern for Sreejesh and he will produce sensational saves, as he has done over the years, but Pathak's performance will give the team massive confidence for the future, which includes the World Cup in January.
More than just a match against Spain
The match against Spain will hold more importance simply because both teams are in the same group for the upcoming World Cup. In their previous Pro League encounters, both Spain and India served up plenty of goals. India scored eight times over two legs last year in Bhubaneswar while Spain responded with eight goals too, both teams winning a game each.
Spanish players, like New Zealand, were involved in the European club season so they have game time under their belts. Like New Zealand, Spain will exploit the spaces in India's defence and they are pretty quick on the counter. Keeping a clean sheet against them will please Reid but more importantly, he will want his team to get the off the ball 'basics' right.
India vs Spain will take place at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and will begin at 7.10 PM IST on Sunday, 30th October. It will be broadcast live on Star Sports and Disney+ Hotstar.