Women's World Cup 2018: 'Winning U-18 Asia Cup bronze as captain was special' says Indian midfielder Udita
Receiving the special hockey kit with her name on it was something that Udita had always looked forward to, but that very moment of pride had somehow lost a bit of sheen as her dad was no longer present to share the moment of joy with her.
Her proud parents had been so enthused by their daughter's involvement in the game that they had taken the flight with her when she played her first junior tournament just as she was completing tenth grade.
The girl from Hisar lost her father after a prolonged illness and found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that the man who so wanted her to excel in the game was not around when she first received her kit.
Overcoming tragedy to pursue her ambitions
The untimely death of her father who had served in the Haryana Police Department was more just than an emotional challenge.
The mantle of supporting her family fell on her early, and she wishes to do so by excelling in the sport she loves. So, putting the trauma of the bereavement behind her, the 20-year old midfielder displayed a tenacious resilience and sought to channel her energy on the hockey pitch.
Quite deservedly, she earned her place in the Indian squad for the Asian Champions Trophy after having made her debut in a Four-Nation tournament in Europe.
Bubbling with vibrancy, and displaying a great amount of zeal and zest on the eve of the World Cup, a cheerful Udita told Sportskeeda that she simply could not wait to take off and get started on the pitch at London.
She and her teammates did start with some style, as India stunned the world by holding Olympic champions England. Namita, Lilima, Monika, and goalscorer Neha Goyal, kept tight tabs on the movements of their English counterparts, making vital interceptions and cutting off space in the opener.
As a result, the Engish girls had to resort to back passes quite often, being unable to weave their way forward. On occasions when they did manage to sneak in, fellow midfielders Udita and Navjot shadowed Danny Kerry's girls doggedly not allowing them to manufacture any meaningful passes into the striking circle.
Yet, like Navot, her Haryana teammate, she loves to advance menacingly whenever the opportunity presents itself and states emphatically that she enjoys playing up front. The Indian team, she says, is like her family and therefore, she does not miss home much.
Here are the excerpts of the interview:
Sportskeeda: Describe for us how your journey in the world of hockey began.
Udita: I used to play handball at school as the handball court was in the vicinity. I liked the game as I saw the girls play and I joined them. When the handball coach did not turn up for three days in a row, I asked my mother to speak to the hockey coach to see if I could play hockey instead. My mother consented right away as she was impressed by the way I ran, and reckoned I could do well in the game.
At the initial stages, I wasn't too certain of just how talented I was in hockey but I kept at it. Finally, I gained admission to the SAI centre and thus my journey began.
I was selected for the junior camp in 2015 where I developed my skills for a year. My first international tour was in 2016.
"I was captain of India's U-18 team which won bronze in the Asia Cup"
Sportskeeda: How smooth was the transition from the junior to the senior camp and which position do you prefer?
Udita: When I started hockey, I played as a striker and felt comfortable attacking. Positions started changing after that. As a junior, I played in defence. Right now, I help marshal the midfield, but on the whole, I enjoy playing as a forward.
I was the captain of the Indian juniors in the U-18 Asia Cup (Bangkok 2016) and we won bronze in that tournament. Being captain felt special and the bronze-medal winning performance will forever be etched in my memory.
All the senior players supported me and helped to improve my game by pointing out my shortcomings to me. There were times when I used to get demoralized easily but the seniors motivated me a lot.
At the junior level, the other players were from my batch, so the comfort level was high and there was not much pressure. There is a lot to learn when one first joins the senior camp. The intensity in the practice sessions is much more and one has to strive to match the standards which the seniors set.
I idolize Rani Rampal and Vandana Katariya and wish I could emulate their achievements on the field.
"Attacking hockey is our forte"
Sportskeeda: Are you feeling excited or nervous on the eve of such a huge tournament? How have the preparations been?
Udita: The World Cup is definitely the first major international tournament I will be playing in, and I cannot describe how excited I am. I just can't wait to take off, such is the eagerness to be part of this huge event.
We are busy for pretty much the entire day with speed tests, gym sessions, and fitness regimens. Attacking hockey is the forte of our team and the way players advance swiftly to offer support to each other up front is wonderful to watch.
Our aim is to win the quarterfinal and enter the last four. We would like a podium finish and will do our utmost to get there.
Sportskeeda: Typically, how long does it take for you to overcome jet lag and get into a perfect rhythm when you travel to another continent?
Udita: I can never sleep on flights. The insomnia is a result of excitement, however, and not because of turbulence. If we manage to sleep right, it just takes a day to adjust.
Our coach is very particular about sleep timings around the time we travel so our bodies can adapt quickly to the change.