FIH Series Finals: 'Amazing that some girls scored higher than 20 in Yo-Yo Test,' says Sjoerd Marijne
- Exclusive interaction with Sjoerd Marijne, coach of the Indian women's team, ahead of the FIH Series Finals to be held in June.
The Hiroshima leg of the FIH Series Finals gets underway on June 15, and the Indian girls, who are placed in Pool A, begin their campaign against the Uruguayans who are currently ranked 24th as per the FIH world rankings.
The moment of reckoning nears - are the Golden Girls ready?
One rung above the South American side is Poland, who the Indians will take on next, before ending the group phase against minnows Fiji.
Although the ninth-ranked Indians are, by far, the highest-ranked side in the competition, they can ill-afford to be complacent, as a semifinal clash with either Chile or Japan is a distinct possibility - with Mexico and Russia being the other teams in Pool B.
The Chileans, now ranked sixteenth, had held India to a 1-1 draw in regulation time before Savita showed her class to help her side win the shootout in the HWL Round 2 final in Rotterdam back in 2017.
As far as the Japanese girls are concerned, Rani Rampal and co. could scarcely have forgotten the Asian Games final last August which broke Indian hearts - the loss at Jakarta being the prime reason why the Indians have been forced to take a roundabout road to Tokyo.
A top-two finish will be good enough for Sjoerd Marijne's side to make it to the next round of the qualifiers - and judging by recent performances, and the general mood in the camp, the Indians will be expected to prevail without breaking into too much of a sweat.
The Indian girls have performed admirably against Spain, Ireland, Malaysia, and Korea in the run-up to the HSF, and coach Marijne is confident of his team's abilities - but is quick to add that the girls are constantly engaged in discussions which revolve around the importance of not slackening under any circumstances.
"After the Asian Games, World Cup and the Spain tour, I feel confident - but more importantly, the girls feel extremely confident."
"In Korea, we played two out of three matches very well and, unfortunately, in the last match, the focus was less, and then we experienced that our level dropped too far. That’s an important lesson for us - and it is better that it happens now than in the Series."
"What is important is that we know what level we can reach, and how we have to do that. Overall, the Korea tour gave us confidence - and now we are going back to camp for the final points before we leave to Japan."
"Yeah, it's been a year but it seems like I've never been away": Sjoerd Marijne
It was in early 2017 that Sjoerd Marijne landed in India aiming to introduce the Indian eves to modern methods, in addition to stabilizing the structure and fortifying the natural stick stills with speed.
After an eight-month hiatus which involved accompanying the men's team to Bangladesh, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Australia, Sjoerd Marijne was back where he began his India stint after being asked to take over the women's side again in May of last year.
The Dutchman's second stint with the Golden Girls yielded encouraging results after a gritty show at the London World Cup which was followed by an Asian Games silver.
Continental supremacy was achieved via the FIH rankings, even as the all-important gold medal seemed to tantalizingly elude the girls who lost to hosts Korea in the Asian Champions Trophy final - and failed to make amends by going down to Japan in the Asian Games final.
Yet, when Marijne looks back at his India journey, a year after the coach swap, there remains no doubt whatsoever that he is back where he truly belongs.
"Yeah, it's been a year but it seems like I've never been away."
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, the coach of the Indian women's team shares his thoughts on the pros and cons of the HPL as compared to the HSF, marvels at the fitness levels of his charges, and exudes confidence that the team will emerge triumphant at the Hockey Series Finals in June.
"Gurjit can play in Japan - and Rani - we have to manage her load in a good way."
The Indians were, arguably, the best defending team at the London World Cup and the coaching staff continue to assert that defence is the inherent strength of a side which boasts of great experience in the department.
"In Malaysia, defensively, things were very good, with a very good structure, but the girls could have done better with their goal-scoring. Malaysia defended well and that meant that we had to earn PCs and then try and convert the PCs."
The Indian girls did well in the just-concluded tour to Korea, winning the three-Test series 2-1. The team were without the services of attacking-defender Reena Khokhar who suffered an eye injury, but Marijne feels the team has more depth than they did last year.
"Reena did not play in Korea as she had an eye injury. For the future of the team, it is indeed a good development that a lot of new girls have got international exposure and are willing to learn."
Captain Rani and key drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur who were unable to make it to Malaysia last month are now fit, but the coach opines that the skipper's load will need to be managed well.
"Gurjit can play in Japan - and Rani - we have to manage her load in a good way."
Both the Indian men and women are not part of the inaugural edition of the ongoing Hockey Pro League which is currently witnessing some intense battles between the top sides in world hockey.
Hockey Pro League versus Hockey Series Finals - view from the Indian camp
A packed schedule - which entails shuttling across continents has been the order of the day for teams taking part in FIH's elite league which is being played in a home-and-away format.
Marijne feels that while the Pro League would have provided young Indian players a platform to showcase their talent on the world stage, the hectic schedule of the league may not have been ideal for an Indian side whose primary objective is to make it to Tokyo.
"To play the Pro League, you definitely need to create a lot of depth in the team. For the number of matches a team has to play, you need at least 24 to 25 players. Jyoti played in Malaysia for the first time - if India was in the Pro League - perhaps - she could have played a lot more internationals."
"So, the teams in the Pro League do have an advantage, as new players get international caps and can play at the highest level a lot more, but the frequency of the matches and the amount of travelling may not have helped our cause of trying to focus on qualifying for the Olympics."
FIH's new points system has been the subject of some intense debate given that teams in the Pro League stand to gain while those in the Series Finals feel hard done by.
The Indian girls veered ahead of China last year but since the Chinese are part of the women's edition of the Pro League, they are slowly closing the gap much to the Dutchman's anguish.
"I really do not understand what the FIH is doing with the points system - the eighth-placed team in the Pro League gets as many points as the team which finishes on top in the Series Finals."
"China (who are in the Pro League) are only 5 points behind us now - and have a good chance to get ahead of us - what can we do about that?"
In spite of a few hurdles - and the occasional hiccup - the Indian eves have been remarkably consistent, and the man who once coached the Dutch national women's side leaves no room for doubt that he is, indeed, pleased to be associated with the Golden Girls.
"I am quite happy with the girls. I am very privileged that they are very open to my style of coaching and there is a deep connection between us. I can share my knowledge and give them a lot of information."
"We train very hard. It's really amazing that six to seven girls have managed over 20 in the Yo-Yo - something that even the guys would be proud of."
"In the end, the players always decide whether to utilize the knowledge or not. The girls are extremely disciplined and take ownership."
The team for Hiroshima will be announced on the 28th of May.