There is regular talk that the women’s hockey team is meted out a step-motherly treatment in the country. Jobs are scarce for women hockey players in the country – Indian Railways employs a huge chunk of them and no other government or private entity evince interest in hiring these players.
The profile of women’s hockey has been one of neglect and apathy while lack of extensive television coverage also hasn’t helped. Sadly, the disappointing performance of the Indian women’s hockey team in the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Finals in Antwerp will only dilute interest for women’s hockey in the country.
The Indian eves looked at ease playing the lower-ranked sides, but when they are up against the higher ranked sides like Netherlands, Australia, Germany and New Zealand, they go into their shell and often struggle to stand competitive, forget winning against these teams. It may be that the girls have a ‘mental block’ playing these teams. There is no shortage of skills in this team and fitness-wise the girls are as good as any other top team thanks to increased focus on fitness through appointment of foreign trainers over the last few years.
India has played top teams very intermittently
The Indian women also do not play these top teams too often as they don’t qualify for the Olympics or Champions Trophy. The Hockey World League concept, started in 2013, has at least ensured India get to play these top teams. India were drubbed 0-7 by the Netherlands in Antwerp – their first meeting since losing to the same opponents 1-8 in the 2013 Hockey World League Semi-final Round in Rotterdam in June. Prior to that, India last played the Dutch in the 2010 World Cup where they lost 1-7. So playing three times against the Olympic and world champions in five years is not just acceptable.
Take the case of world number two Australia. India lost 2-4 in Antwerp and played them twice in two months, but the previous meeting before that was in the 2012 Champions Challenge in Dublin where the girls lost 1-8. Germany is another side India does not play too often – the last time they lost to them 1-7 in the 2013 Hockey World League Semifinal Round in Rotterdam in June. World number three Argentina is another side whom India have not met for four years since a four-Test series back in December 2011.
The point is if we are going to play these top sides once or twice in two-three years, Indian women’s hockey is not going to improve. World number four New Zealand is one side whom India have played just four times in last three years and the girls have lost to them 0-7 in 2013, 0-3 in 2014, 1-4 in 2015 and the most recent 0-5.
The women’s team’s fighting performance at the 2015 Hawke’s Bay Cup is a telling statement that the team has the potential to go places. The event can be a classic case of explaining why fighting hard and losing is important rather than meek surrenders.
It will be grossly unfair if we pin the blame on the girls for their inability to stand tall when facing the top teams, but clearly one thing is clear that Hockey India must look to regularly hold Test matches against these top teams as that is the only remedy for our women’s team (playing Test matches against teams like Malaysia- we played a six Test series last year).
In fact, the girls did not play any international hockey for more than six months from the 2013 Asian Champions Trophy held in November to June 2014, is not going to help in resuscitating women’s hockey – this lack of international exposure has sorely hurt the team.
Playing top teams regularly is the way forward for women’s hockey in India!