'Hard work will pay off in the World Cup,' says star drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur
The USA had Rachel Dawson in their ranks, the Dutch had Maartje Paumen, while Jodie Kenny continues to fire the flicks in for the Hockeyroos even after becoming a mum.
The Indian women's team were never short of talent or quality but the absence of a world-class drag-flicker proved to be their undoing many a time. The script was altered in the Asia Cup last year when India traveled to Japan to defend the bronze medal which they had won in 2013.
Amritsar girl shines at Kakamigahara
India played their opening match against Singapore on October 28. Three days after she had celebrated her 22nd birthday, Gurjit Kaur scored her first goal of the tournament in this very match off a drag flick in the third quarter as India won by a massive 10-0 margin.
A couple of days later, she scored the opening goal against a higher-ranked Chinese side, and for the third time in as many matches, the defender from Amritsar scored off a PC against Malaysia as India continued their unbeaten run.
Her biggest moment arrived when the Golden Girls ran into Kazakhstan in the quarterfinals and Gurjit Kaur was in magnificent form as she scored a PC hattrick to help power her team to the semifinal by a huge 7-1 margin. Her sublime form continued in the last-four encounter against the hosts, as she scored a brace as early as the 7th and 9th minutes to power her team to a 4-2 win.
Gurjit scored a total of eight goals at Kakamigahara, all from PCs, as India won the Asia Cup and in the process qualified for the London World Cup. The women's team had found the decisive cutting edge it had lacked thus far and a new star was born.
"After winning the Asia Cup, we went to Jalandhar first," says Gurjit, recalling the proud moment. "I received a rousing reception and my parents were with me too as was my entire family. Post that, the welcome I was accorded in my village the next day was equally nice. My relatives were part of the celebrations and they were present in great numbers."
At Donghae, in the Asian Champions Trophy last month, Gurjit displayed her prowess yet again, by scoring against the Chinese and the Malaysian girls. When she doesn't score the goals herself, her teammates do so by latching on to rebounds off her powerful flicks, just as young Lalremsiani did in the match against Korea.
The group match against the hosts in Donghae, on May 19, marked Gurjit's 50th international appearance for her side.
Where did the journey begin and how much of an effort has it taken to become a lethal penalty-corner specialist that she has now developed into?
The gritty defender who is fast proving to be a goalscoring machine spoke to Sportskeeda on the eve of the team's departure to Spain where they are currently playing a 5-match series.
Sportskeeda: When and where did you first start playing hockey in your childhood?
Gurjit: I am from Amritsar and my village is situated near the (Pakistan) border. There are no sports facilities or grounds there at all. In fact, the village is situated in a remote location and it is extremely difficult to get to the town from there. My father had to travel a very long distance to drop and pick me and my sister up from school.
Following this, my father decided to put us in a hostel in Kairon in Tarn Taran district when I was in the sixth standard and that was in 2006. I started playing hockey then and developed an affinity for the game. After being selected for the junior camp where I worked very hard, I was selected for the senior camp in 2014.
Sportskeeda: When did you first start training as a drag-flicker and who helped you the most in developing your skills?
Gurjit: I started out with hits and gradually learned how to execute drag flicks. My muscles used to feel sore but I never stopped. It was a painful journey and involved a lot of work but it has paid off.
We had a Test series in Holland and I trained under Toon (Siepman) who is an expert in the area of PCs. (Toon Siepman is a Dutch stalwart who has also assisted world-class players like Sophie Bray and Shona McCallin of Britain.)
Toon corrected my mistakes and taught me a lot of new techniques. The training I received in Holland benefited me immensely. I implemented whatever I had learned in the Asia Cup and the results have been obvious.
Sportskeeda: Gurjit, tell us the main areas that the team will focus on during the Spain tour. Will you be looking to test some young players?
Gurjit: We will be playing Test matches with the Spanish national team. Twenty of us have been selected for the tour. New players will definitely be given a chance to showcase their skills. The tour will provide us with some much-needed experience before the World Cup begins next month.
Fitness will be vital for us as the Asian Games is scheduled just after the World Cup. Whatever time we have in the interim we are doing our best to utilize to the maximum. Hard work is the key and we are not wasting any time whatsoever.
Sportskeeda: Do you feel the pressure now that the expectations have increased both for the team and for you as well?
Gurjit: There is no pressure at all. I want to focus on how to effectively score from PCs and will be unable to do so if am under pressure. I do not get tense, instead, I like to practice and execute my drag flicks with a calm mind. If I am under pressure and cannot perform, the entire team will then suffer.
India could have done even better in the Commonwealth Games
Sportskeeda: How would you assess India's performance in Gold Coast?
Gurjit: We beat England (in the group match) after a long gap. We were pleased but I felt we could have performed even better. The feeling at the time was that if we can beat England, we can beat anyone.
In the bronze-medal match, we lost hope after England scored their second goal. The girls were a bit despondent too and did not know how to respond to the second goal. In the process, we ended up conceding one goal after another.
I feel we could have beaten Australia in the semifinal. The goal they scored should not have been allowed as it was clearly a dangerous ball. Having said that, we did not utilize the chances that came our way.
Sportskeeda: What is the Indian team aiming for at the World Cup and will the girls continue playing attacking hockey like they did at Donghae?
Gurjit: In the Asian Champions Trophy, our coach instructed us to play forward as much as possible. The first option was always to execute forward passes and score early. If we score early, we can then play calmly and confidently.
We have worked very hard thus far and will have to continue doing the same. We should be able to qualify for the quarter-finals at the World Cup. In fact, I would say we will. We have to continue working as hard as we are now, and if we do so, we will make it.
I believe in hard work and delivering solid results for my team.