Women's World Cup 2018: 'Girls are motivated and want to start with a bang,' says Assistant Coach, CR Kumar
The waxing and waning fortunes of Indian hockey over the years have left many enthusiastic and talented players and coaches disillusioned and cynical. While many gave up and chose to bid adieu to the sport, a determined few stuck on grittily in spite of suffering several reverses.
One among them is assistant coach of the Indian women's team, Chidambaram Rajaratinam Kumar who has been part of the Indian hockey fraternity for as long as one can remember. The coach who won gold for India in the 2001 Junior World Cup has in the process dedicated a lifetime to rendering yeoman service to the game he loves.
Stalwarts in the present squad like Savita Punia, Rani Rampal, and Vandana Katariya were part of the team Kumar coached in 2012. Back then, he and the girls narrowly missed out in their quest for a ticket to the London Olympics.
Six years later, Kumar is headed for the English capital and feels this time the girls will make it count. "Now, we are mentally prepared for it. We have had lots of psychological sessions The players are really motivated and they want to start with a bang."
Perhaps more than any other individual in the set-up, the veteran from Thanjavur sure knows what he is talking about. In the course of his coaching journey, Kumar has mentored the Tamil Nadu state team, the Railways team, the Indian junior men's team, the Indian senior men's team, and the senior Indian women.
Chief coach Sjoerd Marijne is appreciative of his assistant who will celebrate his birthday on July 14. "He is a guy who can be trusted, that’s important for me. He has been with the team for a long time and his loyalty makes him a staff member who we appreciate. He is very punctual in everything he does and he contributes to the team and the staff."
Kumar served as the assistant to V Bhaskaran when the Indian men finished ninth in the 1998 World Cup in Utrecht. The golden moment arrived three years later when he led the Indian colts to victory in the 2001 Junior World Cup. In Hobart, the Indian team comprising Prabhjot Singh, Jugraj Singh, Arjun Halappa, and Deepak Thakur defeated Germany in the semifinal and thrashed Argentina 6-1 in the final.
The disappointments have been many. Kumar was in charge when the Indian girls lost to South Africa in the final of the Olympic qualifiers in 2012 and thus failed to make it to London. A year after the Indian juniors won the World Cup, Kumar was assisting Cedric D' Souza in the Senior World Cup when he suddenly found himself in charge of the team after D'Souza was relieved of his duties midway through the tournament.
Kumar who even had a stint with the Malaysian women between 2003 and 2007 and is upbeat about India's chances in the World Cup.
"We are targeting the best. The team has been together for a long time and there are 11 players from the last Asian Games. We expect a very good performance in the World Cup."
"The opening game is against England who is the host and we are positive about the opener as we beat England in the Commonwealth Games. The girls are very motivated with that win and we are definitely expecting good results."
The Indian girls suffered losses against the USA and Ireland who are the other 2 teams in India's pool, but Kumar feels both sides can be beaten. The USA is currently ranked seventh while Ireland is ranked sixteenth.
India lost narrowly to Ireland in the Hockey World League Semifinal last year. It was a match in which all three goals were scored via PCs.
Gurjit Kaur gave the Indians an early lead which the girls failed to double in spite of earning a penalty stroke. The Irish came back strongly with two goals in the final quarter to steal a win as a result of which the Indians finished eighth in the tournament. Against the USA, India lost by a 1-4 margin in the same tournament at Johannesburg.
At Rio too, India had suffered a loss against the Americans as they went down by a 3-0 margin a couple of years ago, but Kumar is confident of the team's chances.
"USA and Ireland are beatable sides, in my opinion, because the girls have played enough games against all these teams."
"That takes us to the next level, which is the quarterfinal. If we win the opening game, it will boost our chances to a great extent. The remaining games will then be much easier for us."
Kumar feels that the first game has always been a hurdle and beating England in the opener will pave the way for a good performance.
The Golden Girls will not have the luxury of a break post the World Cup as the Asian Games begins on August 18th. Sjoerd Marijne is surprised that the draw and schedule for the Asian Games has not yet been released but says that the team has a backup plan for all eventualities and the itinerary at London will not tax the team.
"The Asian Games is very important for all Indians but the schedule for the World Cup is not very tough as there is a gap of at least three days between matches."
Rani Rampal and her girls will take on England in the opener on July 21 and have a long breather before meeting Ireland on July 26. Next up will be the United Sta who the Indians will hope to beat on July 29.