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Have always aimed for podium finishes and 2018 is no different: In conversation with the Indian Women's Hockey Team

Have always aimed for podium finishes and 2018 is no different: In conversation with the Indian Womens Hockey Team
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By

Deepshikha Chatterjee

Published: 22 Jan 2018 12:24 AM GMT
Warm up. Play as rigorously as you can. Cooldown. Repeat the next day. The is the shortest and most accurate description of a national camp that one would find. Being selected for the interim team which is likely to represent the country at all major tournaments in the year ahead is no small feat. And nobody in the group is taking it lightly. As Coach Harendra Singh stands at the centre of the women's huddle in the middle of the astroturf- there is a determined resolution on every player's face; it is the will to succeed. If one were to give an opinion on the state of the Women's Hockey team in the year gone by, the consensus would mostly be negative. For one thing, the sacking of Roelant Oltmans meant that Coach
Sjoerd Marijne
would be offered the managerial role of the Men's Hockey team instead of the women where he was previously instated while erstwhile Junior Coach Harendra Singh would be taking over the responsibilities of the Women's team from him. At that point, the future definitely seemed bleak. Granted that Marijne had experienced little success with Rani Rampal's dynamically young team, it still seemed a bit disconcerting that a man who had no experience in coaching women should be given the job after him. It's been four months since all speculation has been silenced; if one asks the Team, it has been four life-changing months. There is a term in sport used to describe a particularly marvellous achievement by an underdog. Colloquially, it's called "doing a Bradbury"- a reference, of course, to skater Steve Bradbury's ridiculous run to eventually win Gold at the 2002 Winter Games held in Salt Lake City. He was considered an underdog for this event precisely because he was well past his prime by then. However, what he may have lacked for in finesse, he made up for it in patience and experience. Underwhelmingly, he just waited for his opponents to crash out before leisurely and cautiously cruising to victory.
The underdog status was what India had entered the Women's Asia Cup tournament with. Given the kind of shuffle that the team had gone through merely a couple of months before this all-important competition, no one had expected a podium finish, let alone a gold medal victory. But here is where all stakeholders were proved wrong. What Marijne had been unable to bring to the table concerning the right strategies and combination, Harendra Singh did. It somehow clicked, and the decision for his appointment did not seem that bad after all. Not only did India emerge at the top in Asia, but they also did so without losing a single match along the way. For a team who had been written off months before the tournament, this was a massive feat indeed. So how did it feel to prove everyone wrong? "I would say it was among the best feelings in my life," says captain
Rani Rampal
with a carefree laugh. "It's good to prove people wrong." It was around noon, post the practice sessions, post the pep-talks that followed the practice sessions that The Bridge finally caught up with some key members of the team. Talking in between mouthfuls of fruit that was a necessary source of energy after the gruelling practice, captain Rani Rampal seemed to be quite confident about the rest of the year ahead. "2018 is an important year for Indian Hockey. I have heard this so many times now. It does not change my strategy." "Yes, a lot of major tournaments are around the corner with barely any time left. But even if they weren't, I have always aimed for podium finishes wherever I have gone. 2018 is not an exception."
"Hard work is the key here,"
she adds with a tone of finality. While it is hard to argue with that sentiment, it does take a second for its importance to sink it. With that one line, Rani Rampal proves to be the embodiment of determination - and not just any kind of commitment, the quiet confidence that always has one foot grounded in reality. "Doing well in Asia and doing well in the world are two completely different ball games," she says. "It would not do for us to sit down and just be satisfied with being "The Best in Asia". What is Asia compared to the world? Nothing. That's what." You can tell a leader by their attitude, and with the little experience in leadership that this writer has, Rani Rampal has the right idea. She is a woman with a mission, and she plans to achieve it. Pondering over her reading of the game, I am taken back to the practice session that had ended a little while back. The responsibility of coaching the team, it seemed, was not only on Coach Harendra. Along with him, the captain of the Indian team took charge, often rebuking her team if they made careless errors in following the coach's instructions. Judging by her attitude both on and off the field, it would suffice to say that Rani Rampal is the kind of captain who shoulders responsibility even off the turf. "I believe we have what it takes to beat the best," she says bluntly. "We will always try to get better." At this point, 17-year old
Lalremsiami
walks up evidently interested in the conversation. Back in the Asia Cup, this girl was the youngest in the team. She had just made the shift to the senior side at the time of the tournament after a successful stint with the U18 team. Lalremsiami, back in December 2016, had scored twice in the U18 Asia Cup final vs China and was clinical in ensuring victory for her team. Rani Rampal, her captain and friend, shoots her a friendly smile. "It's a good challenge and a learning experience for us having a mixed team with both juniors and seniors. We teach them; they motivate us. A true definition of a symbiotic relationship," she says. What kind of motivation would the seniors need? "Well, you see, the kids are so energetic all the time. They keep us on our toes," Rani laughs. There might be a very valid point here. Unassuming little Lalremsiami is a child in the most real sense of the term. However, it would be a big mistake to underestimate her. What she lacks in experience, she more than makes up for in skill and speed. Utilising her position in the middle of the field to the fullest, the rest of the team often rely on her for her playmaking abilities. For a 17-year old, it might seem too much of a burden, but Lalremsiami laughs it off.
"When I came for my first national camp, I did not know any Hindi all. It was tough communicating with the rest of the team off the turf. Now I know some." "If I can learn that, nothing else is a challenge," she jokes. "It is easy when you have such supportive teammates. In a short while, we have all become good friends. We go out together often to eat or watch movies. It's quite fun." "I come from a place where Hockey is not played that much. I had taken it up at a young age and, thankfully, I have always got the support I needed." "It's been a long journey so far," she concludes. But there is quite a lot left, isn't there? 2018, as the team have inevitably been reminded, is the year of the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup. "Yes," smiles Lalremsiami. "We have a lot to win." Coordination and understanding. These are two fundamental aspects of a team to run smoothly. We saw glimpses of brilliance during the 2017 Asia Cup at clinical moments. True, the team faced tough opponents on their road to victory, but there was one name that stood out in all the matches. That name was
Gurjit Kaur
. We turned our attention to Gurjit who had so far been patiently waiting for her teammates on the sidelines. Looking at her, one cannot help but bring up her brilliant feats in the tournament. The defender set the unlikely benchmark of scoring in every match in the tournament held in Japan. Gurjit laughs at my awe-stricken face. "Teamwork. That's all I can say." "Every milestone is only the beginning of achieving new targets. Like now. Presently, I am working on improving my drag, Gurjit says. "The Asia Cup is in the past. The tournaments in 2018 are what's important now." "When you have the full support of your team, greatness comes easy. For my part, I do not look upon the Asia Cup as a personal milestone. It would not have been possible without every single one of the people who was associated with the team." "They support me, and that is why I can support them." There is really not much you can say in reply to that. Watching the girls in action and observing them off the turf- one thing is clear. These girls are one big family. And the amount of effort that each of them is putting in for the rest of 2018 is commendable. Here's hoping for the best as the girls get ready to take on the world.
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