"Playing the Indian way is the key to countering China and South Korea at the Hockey Asian Champions Trophy" - Vaishnavi Phalke (Exclusive)

Vaishnavi Phalke in action at the 2023 Junior Women
Vaishnavi Phalke in action at the 2023 Junior Women's Asia Cup

Vaishnavi Phalke was in the thick of things for the Indian women's hockey team who won a well-deserved bronze medal at the recently-concluded Asian Games in Hangzhou.

The 19-year-old midfielder linked up with the strikers, thrilled spectators with her trademark PC (penalty corner) push-in, and scored off a couple of short corners as the Indians executed their well-rehearsed variations to perfection on the pitch.

Despite the painful loss to China in the Hangzhou semifinal, Vaishnavi Phalke told Sportskeeda during an exclusive interaction that the Indians will seek to outwit the opposition at the Asian Champions Trophy by sticking to what they do best.

"We did not play our natural game against South Korea and China. At the Asian Champions Trophy, we plan to play a very Indian game with quick one-two passes while on the move. Playing the Indian way is the key to countering teams like China and South Korea," she explained.

"Had practiced short corner routine thoroughly" - Vaishnavi Phalke sheds light on how she scored against Malaysia in Hangzhou

Vaishnavi played a key for the Indians in Hangzhou
Vaishnavi played a key for the Indians in Hangzhou

The Indians cruised through the Asian Games group stages with big wins against Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong but were held to a 1-1 draw by a gritty South Korean side.

Short corner goals came thick and fast for the Indians in the group stages with Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke putting together a series of seamless PC injections which caught the eye of fans on account of a two-step run-up that preceded the push-in.

The player from Satara, Maharashtra, revealed that the short stride before the PC push-in was something she picked up while observing her seniors. Vaishnavi Phalke also added that she was more comfortable with the technique as compared to pushing the ball in from a standing position.

"I am more comfortable performing the PC injection with a stride as compared to doing the push while in a standing position. It's something I have been executing for a while now after having observed a few players doing the same and I have continued the two-step run-up before taking the push," Vaishnavi said.

Precise as the injections were, the youngster's role was not limited to the PC push-ins alone. Vaishnavi, who combined with Neha Goyal to score off a short corner variation against Malaysia, was pleased that the routine they practiced in the training ground, bore fruit.

Lurking at the far post, an unmarked Vaishnavi Phalke deflected the ball into the back of the net to score India's fourth goal after Neha Goyal had taken the drag flick in the 15th minute.

"We had practiced that particular short corner routine thoroughly. We have elaborate sessions during which we practice PC variations, some of which we use in the matches. We managed to execute that short corner (against Malaysia) just as we had planned during training," she recalled.

A bitter semifinal 0-4 semifinal defeat to China notwithstanding, the Savita Punia-led Indian side picked themselves up ahead of the bronze-medal match against Japan before defeating the 2018 Jakarta Games gold-medalists by a 2-1 margin.

In order to raise the morale of the team ahead of the big match, the players encouraged each other to go for it while putting the semifinal loss behind them, as Vaishnavi Phalke elucidated:

"We cheered each other up following the disappointment of the loss to China in the Asian Games semifinal. Coach Janneke Schopman too was extremely supportive ahead of the bronze-medal game," she stated.

Maharashtra girl Vaishnavi Phalke totally "at home" alongside seniors in India squad

Vaishnavi lauded her teammates for being extremely supportive
Vaishnavi lauded her teammates for being extremely supportive

In a team where most players hail from Haryana, Punjab, Odisha, and Jharkhand, Maharashtra girl Vaishnavi Phalke blended in merrily thanks to the help and support of her teammates who she describes as "extremely supportive."

"Akshata Dhekale is also from Maharashtra and we arrived for the camp together. I did not have any major issues with regard to feeling at home in the senior setup mainly because all the players have been extremely helpful and supportive right from the outset," she declared.

Hockey is on the rise in her home state much to the delight of Vaishnavi, whose joy knows no bounds having seen a marked improvement in the level of the aspiring rookies.

"More coaches are now pursuing their coaching diplomas. When I do travel back to the grounds in Maharashtra, I see a lot of improvement in the standard of the youngsters," Vaishnavi added with a glint of pride.

Having already been part of the FIH Junior Women's World Cup, the Senior Hockey 5s in Lausanne, the Women's Junior Asia Cup, and the Hangzhou Games, Vaishnavi is at the threshold of what promises to be a long and fulfilling journey.

"Whatever self-doubt I had when I first played against South Africa and the Netherlands early this year has now diminished thanks to the guidance of seniors in the team who helped me identify and work on the mistakes which I committed," she disclosed.
"What I will always remember is the manner in which we performed as a team in Hangzhou - and I also feel we can do even better with the right amount of teamwork in the future as well," the young talent asserted with a smile.

Vaishnavi Phalke has been picked as a replacement player alongside young Olympian Sharmila Devi for the Asian Champions Trophy which starts on 27 October in Ranchi.

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Edited by Aniket Rai
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