"We have to raise the bar in every match," says coach Marijne as Indian girls record a 5-2 win over Spain
After a five-month hiatus that involved a fair amount of retrospection about a successful year gone by, that could have been even better, the Indian eves are back in action, and possibly giving the World Cup bronze-medalists something to think about.
A comprehensive 5-2 victory against hosts Spain in the third match has resulted in the four-match series now tantalizingly tied at 1-1 with the decider to be played on January 31.
The Golden Girls, who are currently ranked ninth in the world, began the tour with a narrow 2-3 loss in the opener against a Spanish side which moved up the world rankings thanks to a podium finish at last year's World Cup.
The Spanish girls, who jumped from the eleventh to the seventh position following London 2012, held the Indians to a 1-1 draw in the second match of the tour but failed to match the aggression of Rani Rampal and co. on Tuesday.
While chief coach Sjoerd Marijne is pleased with the result, he opines that the girls can do even better defensively and emphasized that the focus is primarily on performance and not necessarily on big wins.
We are getting better at problem-solving: Marijne
"We are working step by step. We are here not to go for the big wins but to record good performances.
"If you perform well, you can also have big wins. Today, we scored a lot of goals but we can improve our defending. We had too many chances against and we need to improve that."
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda after the match, the Dutchman stressed the importance of mental toughness and outlined the role of the new-comers like Salima Tete and Karishma Yadav.
"Karishma has been a part of the Holland tour where she did well and has spent a lot of time with the team in the camps as well. It is important that the girls are confident and not afraid.
"When you are new in the team, you need to work hard, do the things you have been asked to, and play easy. As long as they do that, they will be able to play well in matches. The other players have to make the difference - not them.
"By doing so, they can win the trust of the team and begin to build their game and expect more from themselves. It is good that they are here because that is the only way that they start the learning process and take the big steps."
The aim of the tour is to implement what the team practiced extensively in the practice sessions and Marijne was of the opinion that several positives have already been forthcoming.
"Better game awareness has been one of the positives in the first three games. We are getting better at problem-solving and adjusting to the opponent.
"We can play now better with the ball and off the ball as well - that is something we have worked on. We want to improve that by playing matches, as that is the best way to improve. We have also been working hard with the players on a personal level which has made them more confident and consistent in their game."
Yet, it is not often that a coach can be completely satisfied, and in spite of the result, Marijne wants the girls to keep raising the bar.
"Things are not completely the way I want it to be but that is a process and we need to be patient.
"In the next matches, we need to continue to do what we did well and improve in the areas that we did not. The girls are aware of this and are very disciplined. We have to raise the bar in every match and every single time. I expect more and more from them as that is the only way we can get to the level I have in mind."
'Gurjit knows she is one of the best in the world'
Gurjit Kaur scored in both the opening matches and the Indians scored from a PC variation in the third. Confidence is the key for PC conversions and the goals will help the world-class drag-flicker get back to peak form as the coach explained.
"Gurjit is doing well. Today, we scored from a variation and converted one out of the two PC's we earned, while in the previous match, we earned five PC's and converted one. Opponents are also aware that we can score in different ways now.
"Gurjit has been out of action for five months so the goals will give her a lot of confidence and she knows she is one of the best in the world."
Returning to competitive action after five months was never going to be easy for the team as well but Marijne was pleased with the manner in which the girls maintained their fitness levels.
'You must not allow your mind to think that you are tired'
"Given that the girls are playing competitive hockey after a gap of five months, I am positively surprised by the fitness levels. The girls played three matches in a row and there were some technical errors on the field today but that is something one would expect.
"For me, it is also about the mindset - you must not allow your mind to think that you are tired, and that is something that you can create for yourself. Mental toughness is important and it is also important that we keep monitoring the fitness of the girls as we do not want injuries, of course."
With regard to trying out new strategies in match situations, Marijne stated that the girls were getting there.
"It has just been three matches. We need to play a lot more. Every opponent plays differently. We play against the same opponent next and the girls know how to adjust - but they also need to learn to do the same against different opponents."
After the fourth match against Spain, the girls will play a couple of games against World Cup giant-killers and silver medalists Ireland on February 2nd and 3rd.
The Indians suffered a heartbreaking loss to Ireland in the World Cup quarterfinal shootout and will probably have a point or two to prove before they end the tour.