CHENNAI: In a case of one step forward and two backwards for the Indian women's hockey team, the highs of a 5-0 series win over Belarus were followed by what can only be described as a mauling at the hands of World No 5 New Zealand, with the side being whitewashed 0-5 in the away series.
This also once again brought to fore the women's fragile mentality against top-ranked sides. But coach Sjoerd Marijne begged to differ. "I don't think it was a lack of confidence or that they were overawed. I feel we got more self confidence because of the way we played some matches. Of course, winning gives even more confidence, and we were close in most games. Knowing we were close to defeating a top-ranked side, despite what the final scoreline suggests, tells us that we have what it takes to compete with the best. It gives us a good feeling, and we'll take with us to Johannesburg (Women's World League Semifinal from July 8 to 22)," the Dutchman said.
The difference was in the way New Zealand made India pay for their mistakes, Sjoerd felt. "It was the first time we were playing a higher-ranked side since the Rio Olympics, and against such a side, every mistake is a goal or an opportunity for them. That makes it clear where we have to improve. We did slowly work on our weaknesses, but the most important thing is that we have experienced what is necessary to play at this level. "Also, we made many individual errors, and as a result, we gave away too many easy goals. That's what we have to change, and besides fitness, our handling of speed has to be higher."
After an almost ten-day break, the women will travel to Shilaroo for high-altitude training, starting June 1. The camp will run till June 24, and the girls will then leave from New Delhi for Johannesburg. Keeping in mind the location of the South African city, the trip to the Himachal Pradesh centre was planned.
"Johannesburg is around 1,750m above sea level, and that isn't easy to get used to. The altitude of Shilaroo is 2,500m, so that will help us to adjust better for the World League challenge, and could in turn boost performances. We will continue working the fitness aspect, while also looking at handling speed and defensive structure. Higher handling speed, and being stronger in one on one duels, is key for me. We also need keep the ball longer after regaining it. We will also be trying to improve on dead ball situations like penalty corners and shootouts," the coach noted.