CHENNAI: Consistency. It’s something the Indian women’s hockey team has been trying to achieve for some time now. They have had their share of highs in the past two years when they got the better of higher-ranked teams. Doing that on a regular basis is the next target. With Olympic qualifiers coming up in June and only one tournament lined up before that, the recent tour of Spain was the perfect platform to get the things started en route mission consistency.
It was a mixed bag. Rani Rampal & Co drew 1-1 against Spain after four matches. This included a 5-2 triumph in the third after losing the first and drawing the second. After this, they beat 2018 World Cup runners-up Ireland 1-0 in a two-match series. In the FIH rankings, India is ranked ninth, while is seventh and Ireland eighth. Rani says the fightback against Spain got more to do with the mindset than altering strategy.
“It’s all in the mind. We had lost to Ireland by a close margin (in shootouts) in the World Cup. Hence we knew we could beat them. In the first two matches (against Spain), we didn’t grab the opportunities. We were determined to convert chances in the third. “We wanted to score more goals and we did. But even if we create chances in the circle, scoring is something we have to improve. In a big-ticket event, we don’t get many chances to correct our mistakes. We need to be quick,” the 24-year-old said.
One of the biggest takeaways from 2018 was India’s strong defence, where goalkeeper Savita Punia played a key role in keeping the opponents at bay. But on the Spain tour, though the team suffered only one loss, their defence was challenged. India scored 14 and conceded nine. In the deciding encounter against Spain, the team fumbled on a good opportunity to take control of proceedings after leading 2-0 at half-time. The match ended 2-2. Moving forward, the team will look to tighten their defensive line.
“We need to work more on our structure and defence. We conceded easy penalties against Ireland, which we do not want to repeat in the future. It is important to not give away chances after holding on to a good position.”With six matches played in nine days, Rani says fitness is one of the areas that the team has not compromised at any cost. Despite missing the skipper for the Ireland ties due to a shoulder strain, the team can be content with the fact that they produced positive results.
“Because of better fitness, we were able to do well even if we had many matches in a short span. The girls have benefited from Wayne Lombard’s (scientific advisor) inputs. The energy level was the same throughout the tour. That’s why we were able to produce good performances till the final game.” Before the Olympic qualifiers in Japan, the team is expected to play a tournament in Malaysia in April.
With not many other events scheduled, it all comes down to how quickly this set of players finds its feet.