CHENNAI: Rani Rampal can finally heave a sigh of relief. The women’s hockey team’s one of the most crucial year with tournaments like Commonwealth Games (CWG), World Cup, Asian Games, has come to an end. Though the disappointment of settling for silver in Jakarta was widely noticeable in skipper Rani’s face, the 23-year-old can be a proud of their performances which includes beating Olympic champions England in CWG, reaching World Cup semifinals after 40 years where they conceded only five goals in that tournament, achieving best-ever ranking (ninth).
The team, which was once seen as underdogs, punched above the weight in these big-ticket events. For a side that was treated abominably with coaches being added and replaced, 2018 has been a year of learning not just for the girls, but also for the coach Sjoerd Marijne. “It (the Asiad silver) felt good and I am very happy for the girls,” the Dutchman told Express from Holland. “This achievement will change their outlook on women’s hockey in India.
They can always look back with a good feeling. In the last 1.5 years, I was with the team for nine tournaments and three tours. So for me, this felt like any other tournament. But I know how important the tournament was for Asian teams. The team created history by reaching finals in 20 years. I was not a part of the side during the Commonwealth Games. But for the other two tournaments, I can say that we are proud of their performance.”
Though a direct ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was missed, the 44-year-old is happy with the way the team has carved out a refreshingly new approach to take on any team. “They have improved in every area one can possibly think of. They have become leaner, faster and have improved resilience. Their tactical awareness has seen an upswing and they have become mentally strong and confident. Even the younger players have started taking more responsibility on the field and there is a healthy leadership inside the team. They have taken long strides in defending which can be seen in how fewer goals they have conceded,” Marijne explains.
Another appreciable aspect is how they brought in this culture by forming a core team. Rani & Co played 31 matches in 181 days, an average of one match per 5.83 days. Unlike Japan or China, India’s bench strength is not as strong. There was no constant chopping and changing. They stuck to a 20-member contingent — barring a couple of subtraction and addition in Spain tour and South Korea series — who featured in all the six tournaments this year. This workload was one of the factors cited by Marijne for losing the golden chance in Jakarta.
“We were the team which played the most number of matches from all the teams this year. We can’t rotate with 40 players like Japan. We came close to creating history. But executing in the finals or important matches should be the next step the team must make.” With no more major tournament this year, it is all about recovery and chalking out a plan to qualify for Tokyo for the women. firstname.lastname@example.org