Women's World Cup 2018: 'Aiming for top 4 finish in London' says India's star striker Navneet Kaur
Notwithstanding the strong Korean accent which she had trouble comprehending, Navneet Kaur refused to flinch and responded to the interviewer with a smile as she accepted the accolades that came her way at Donghae.
"I am really happy to win this award as it is the first time I have been named as the Player of the Match in an international tournament," said the beaming striker from Haryana who had just played a key role in her team's 4-1 thrashing of Japan.
A hattrick of field goals is not something that happens very often in the modern game and the 22-year-old striker displayed her speed, power, and accuracy by scoring three goals, all in contrasting fashion in the opener of the Asian Champions Trophy.
The first was through sheer opportunism and positioning as she tapped the ball in at the goalmouth, the second involved phenomenal power from the edge of the shooting circle, while the third started with a scintillating solo run and culminated as India's fourth goal.
"I couldn't really understand what the interviewer asked me as his English was laced with a strong accent but I did my best," says Navneet Kaur as she breaks into a hearty laugh recalling the moment.
Navneet's arsenal is replete with an array of skills, the combination of which makes her a deadly force to reckon with in the striking circle. Much like the rest of her team, the striker from Shahabad Marakanda is brimming with the conviction that the Indian girls are capable of pretty much anything and believes that there is no team which cannot be beaten.
"Korea is not such a good team. We lost to Korea, in the final of the Asian Champions Trophy on account of our mistakes and not because they played better than us." The tone is fiery and the diction is spirited as she continues, "If we can beat England once, we can beat them again."
What about the bronze-medal match against England at Gold Coast which we lost?
"The loss in the second match does not matter. If anything, we will remember the 0-6 margin that we lost by and play hard," says Navneet as part of an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda ahead of the London World Cup.
Attacking hockey is what the Indian coach wants the girls to play and the strikers are more than capable of upsetting the rhythm of the very best teams.
"All the forwards in the team have a thorough understanding of what the others are capable of and that makes the coordination perfect. We know precisely what the qualities of the others are and that is vital to combine well. Vandana is very speedy and has the capacity to run with the ball and deliver assists."
The pedigree is robust and her initiation into the game of hockey happened early.
"I started hockey in 2005 in Shahabad Markanda. I always wanted to play a sport but chose hockey at a later stage. I have a hockey ground directly in front of our house so it was natural that I saw others play and picked up the game."
Unlike a few of her counterparts in the team who faced opposition at home, Navneet was encouraged to take up the game and conceded to the wishes of her father who dreamt of her playing at the highest level.
"My dad had aspired to play at a high level himself, so he encouraged me to take up the game in a big way. He wanted me to perform well and reach the top," said Navneet who knows Savita Punia and Poonam Rani from her young days. It was Poonam Rani, she says who introduced her to skipper Rani Rampal during the nationals.
"I joined the junior camp in 2011 and I played the Lal Bahadur Shastri tournament in Delhi. Narendra Singh Saini was my coach then. Pritam Rani Siwach also coached me as a junior."
Indian fans were pleasantly surprised while many elsewhere were shocked by the team's exploits in the Commonwealth Games where they narrowly lost to Australia in the semifinal.
"The match against England was a do-or-die match for us as we had lost to Wales in the opener. The players were really fired up for that match and wanted to come back strongly to offset the effects of the defeat in the first match," says Navneet.
What were coach Harendra Singh's words following the shock defeat to Wales?
"Harendra Sir spoke to us after the first match. He told us not to worry too much about the loss. In fact, his message was clear that we could beat England and if we did so, it would be historic as they are the Olympic champions. Whatever happens, happens for the best. The loss in the first match acted as a tonic for us and that is the reason we achieved a memorable win against England."
The tour of Spain served to propel the team into a state of readiness for the upcoming battle in London and the girls tried our various strategies in Madrid. Outletting is a technique via which teams transition speedily and efficiently from defence to attack by forward passing and repositioning, and that was precisely the focus of the team's Spanish sojourn says Navneet.
"On the Spain tour, we tried some new techniques with regard to our press and out-letting. We had lost a couple of matches, drawn one and won one match. Before the last match, we held a meeting and decided to give it all we have to draw the series. We won the last match and the players performed brilliantly. We will use the same techniques at the World Cup."
The Olympian who represented India at Rio is confident that the girls will put up a good show in London.
"Gym and running are two techniques we have used for strength and fitness which will help us match the best teams at the World Cup. Our focus is on the first match (against England), and if we win that match, the road to the quarterfinals will be easy. We are aiming for a top 4 finish and we are confident of achieving the same."