CHENNAI: You can sense an air of optimism in the women’s hockey team. It is evident even when you are talking to the coach after their opening game against Olympic champions England at the women’s World Cup in London. They had not won the match — it finished 1-1 — but there is a strong belief among the players. The optimism may still be misplaced but the result struck to a broader theme: underdogs punching above their weight to hassle more established teams. After eight matches, the competition looks more exciting than ever.
While India drew with England (World No 2), USA (7) suffered a shock 1-3 loss against Ireland (16) on Saturday. The next day witnessed Italy (17) taking down China 0-3 (8). With India set to face Ireland in their next clash on Thursday, they know the task won’t be easy. But coach Sjoerd Marijne believes there are positives from the opener and it has set the tone for Rani Rampal & Co to move forward. Apart from goalkeeper Savita Punia being the best on the field, there were two aspects that was impressive. One, their defence and another their agility. With the average age of the squad being 24, one can understand why Marijne’s most used word in his interviews is fitness.
“The competition has increased and any lower-ranked team can beat a higher team. The key for such performance is fitness. When you move faster it’s easy to defend and you can level the opponent’s speed. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we were able to put up a good display. England had eight penalty corners and our defending was solid. Yes, Savita was exceptional but if you see, it’s never one player who saves the team. Players like Gurjit (Kaur) did well,” the Dutchman told Express from London. Though India had their A game on, the result could have been 2-1 if they had more possession.
This is something the team will look to improve. “We were on the money in the defending part. But ball possession is something we were not satisfied with. We made one mistake in the defence line and that changed the result of the match. From our perspective, to create chances for scoring, we need to get hold of the ball and play more passes. If we do that in the next match, I’m sure we can go to the next level.” After an above-par show, it should be seen if they can be more consistent — something that has been a matter of concern for the Indian team.
But the coach was upbeat about maintaining stability. “Even after conceding one goal, we stayed calm. In the past, we have committed this mistake of losing the game after conceding a goal. But we didn’t. This is a sign of improvement. With most of the girls playing the event for the first time, they were not nervous about playing in a stadium with a crowd of 10,000.” Continue in the same vein and India might be on odds on for a similar performance against Ireland.