CHENNAI:After remaining unbeaten in the first four matches of the 5th Asian Champions Trophy, India women faced defeat at the hands of hosts South Korea in the final and failed to defend a title they had won in 2016. Though Sunita Lakra and Co lost after conceding a solitary goal on Sunday, the overall performance revealed a lot more character. It was not limited to Vandana Katariya, who received the player of the tournament award and young Lalremsiami, who won the upcoming player of the tournament gong. They went to the event without two key persons.
Captain Rani Rampal — who was rested — and a coach. Though the new coach Sjoerd Marijne accompanied the team, he was literally an observer after Hockey India decided to move former women's coach Harendra Singh to the men's contingent. With this mix of drama as a backdrop, they scored 11 goals in five matches. But the notable one was the clash against World No 8 China which India won 3-1. For a coach who had joined the team only in the airport en route South Korea and just beginning his second tenure, it was important to be passive, look at how things are around the camp, and then chalk out his plan. I did not want to change anything because I couldn’t prepare with the girls and I did not want to confuse them, Marijne told Express from Donghae City.
The good thing is that a lot of things were still the same from the moment I left the team. Especially the tactics. I was curious to see what things had changed. The Dutchman's player-driven strategy came in for a lot of criticism and was a factor in his removal as men's coach. Though it was not welcomed greatly by men, Marijne remarked he has already seen signs of that being implemented by women in this tournament. In his blog, he explained this technique as a way to encourage players to take decisions on their own in the field and role of the coach was to give freedom to think and act on their feet. Player-driven strategy is that motivation to grow, to learn, to win which has to come from players themselves.
Every big team in the world has leaders but the real leaders take responsibility and the successful coaches give them that freedom to do that. All Blacks do their own team meeting on match-days, Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan was the same. What I saw in this tournament is that senior girls did their best to take responsibility and help other players improve and understand the way of playing. I enjoyed that and that’s what they have to keep doing. I will keep giving them space for this. The one thing Marijne felt had changed, in the seven months he was away, was the team's fitness. If they are able to score 11 goals in a week, their feet should be quick.
There is certainly an improvement in fitness. Erik Wonink (analytical coach) and Wayne Lombard (scientific advisor) have worked well and they communicate more in meetings and inside the pitch. Priyanka, our psychologist, did good work in that area. Though positives are aplenty for India, the reason for their loss in the final was due to their inability to create chances. In other words, they found it difficult to break down the opponent's defence. With three weeks to go for Spain tour — their next assignment and the last one before World Cup — this will be one area that they have to focus on. Today, the girls were running too much with the ball. We did not understand them enough even after playing the last group stage match against South Korea. But moving forward, we will work on these tactics but the primary focus will remain on recovery and fitness.