The real battle for the Indian women's hockey team begins now
India can learn from positives
It may seem a tad far-fetched to describe the Indian women’s hockey team’s performance in the FIH Hockey World League Round 2 Event as ‘cynical’. Well, while not taking any credit from the girls (for winning the round two event and qualifying for the world league semifinals, which will serve as a qualification event for the 2016 Rio Olympics), like any international team this Indian team will know that there is plenty of room for improvement.
The Indian team can count on the positives and work on their shortfalls so that they are battle-ready to take on formidable sides like Olympic champions Netherlands, Argentina, Australia, China, Germany, New Zealand and Great Britain in the Hockey World League semifinals slated to be held in June this year. Of course, there is very little to choose from these teams, the likes of Netherlands and Australia do have an imposing presence on the pitch and are feared by most other teams.
Heroes of the Indian team
The Indian forwardline were at their rampaging best – a gargantuan 39 goals in six goals – the first time that Indian goalkeeper Savita was beaten was in the final against Poland, which speaks something about the team’s defence, which repeatedly kept the opposition at bay. Vandana Katariya was the biggest find of the tournament not just because she emerged as the top goal-scorer (11 goals including two hat-tricks), but she injected hope about the country finding a lethal striker someone who can complement talented Rani Rampal upfront.
The way Vandana goes about things on the pitch is indeed praiseworthy – she is quick on the ball, rushes to help the defence when needed and creates those goal-scoring passes besides her main forte – scoring. Rani Rampal is coming into this tourney with the baggage of a long injury lay-off and it was crystal clear that the talented Shahbad girl was nowhere near her peak form.
The stature of Rampal is such that even a half-fit player like her can spell trouble for the opposition – Poland experienced this when she scored a gem of a goal to help the home side regain the lead as the Poland pushed hard after equalizing in the second quarter. Experienced Poonam Rani showed decent form, while newbie Amandeep Kaur performed reasonably well. Comeback girl Soundarya Yendala and Anupa Barla did their bit in the forwardline, although they may not have regularly found their names on the scoresheet.
Skipper Ritu Rani led by example and in vice captain Deepika she found someone, who can provide her much-needed support in the midfield. The likes of Sushila Chanu and Navjot Kaur are gaining vital international experience and can only get better. Remember, it was the sturdy Deepika, who created two goal-scoring passes in the final against Poland – clearly, she lends so much value to the side.
Goalkeeper Savita was outstanding for most part of the tournament and so were the fullback quartet of Deep Grace Ekka, Namita Toppo, Sunita Lakra and Jaspreet Kaur.
Work on penalty corners
Penalty corner conversion appears to be a concern area as the Indians lacked the desired skills in all three aspects of the routine – injecting, stopping and hitting. Injection was wayward at most times and the team think-tank was not sure whether to go for a direct hit or try the indirect attempt. On most occasions when India went for the indirect option, they cut a sorry figure. Jaspreet Kaur – the lone drag-flicker in the side – showed promise, but given the plethora of short corners the team won, one must say that the tall drag-flicker has to improve her conversion rate and overall the team must work hard on PC variations.
It’s great to see India live up to their billing and qualify for the Hockey World League semifinals, but the bottomline is the ‘real battle’ for India starts now with the team bidding to make it to the 2016 Olympics after last featuring in it thirty five years ago in Moscow.
It will be a tough ask, but seeing the flair in this side, one just cannot write off this side. This young Indian team is gelling as a unit and hopefully new coach Anthony Thornton will have adequate time to prepare the girls for the HWL semifinals in June so that they can come out all guns blazing and script a top-six finish and make the Olympic cut!