India men's hockey team midfielder Nilakanta Sharma said on Wednesday that his side had reaped the rewards of tremendous hard work during lockdown in the recently concluded series against Olympic champions Argentina.
India defeated Argentina in both FIH Pro League games, besides winning two practice games in Buenos Aires.
Sharma said that the tour of Argentina was an enriching experience, and the team is hoping to carry this current run of form into the Tokyo Olympics.
"We made it a point to keep training and work on our game even while being indoors. Our preparations for the Olympics started last year in the FIH Pro League, where we fared well against world champions Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia. We also had a solid tour of Europe earlier this year. That gave us the confidence that we could face the best teams and come out on top," said Sharma.
He felt that a good start in 2021 had given India the momentum for the Olympics.
"The Argentina tour was an important experience for all of us. We were yearning for proper match practice while building up towards the Olympics. We had spent a lot of time in national camps over the past year trying to work on our game. I am glad that it paid off. We showed a lot of character despite a lot of players taking the field after a long time," he added.
Reflecting on the year gone by where many international events were cancelled, Sharma said, "There's no doubt that it's been a difficult time for all of us due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sharma scored India's first goal of the Argentina tour, and followed the effort with an assist in the second practice match. The Indian attacking midfielder earned praise for creating loads of chances.
"I have learned to stay calm and composed in pressure situations. I feel we combine well...captain Manpreet, Dilpreet and Hardik. We have a very good understanding about each other's game. What we saw in Argentina was a result of a lot of hard during training sessions.
As I said, the more we played with each other, our game improved. Conversations with chief coach Graham Reid have been open. He has been approachable from day one and has given me a very clear idea about my role in the team," the 25-year-old said.
The Manipur player has come a long way from being a junior world champion on home soil in 2016, a team that also included current stars Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Krishan Pathak among others.