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Indian hockey eves should build on Hiroshima positives

Indian hockey eves should build on Hiroshima positives

Suhrid Barua

Published: 3 July 2019 5:10 AM GMT
The Indian women’s hockey team should be feeling ‘a lot better’ about the way they went about their business at the recent 2019 FIH Women’s Series Finals in Hiroshima, Japan. Of course, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualifying route was the broader focus area of the Blueskirts – the Hiroshima event had two slots up for grabs (the winner and runners-up make the cut for the Olympic qualifiers). There is no doubt that the Indian eves struck the right notes at the 2019 FIH Women’s Series Finals, but let’s not overlook the fact it wasn’t exactly a ‘stroll on the pitch’ for them. https://twitter.com/TheBridge_IN/status/1144914070287470592

FIH Series Finals performance

Uruguay ranked 25th, was India’s first opponent in the tourney and the South Americans did not allow India to make mincemeat of them, keeping India on a tight leash, even scoring once before the Blueskirts sealed the fate in the final two quarters with a 4-1 win. Poland, who are ranked 24th, like their men counterparts, proved to be a sticky opponent, denying India any goals in the first quarter before losing the plot in the latter stages of the game to go down 0-5. Fiji – the lowest ranked side in the tournament at 44 – was never expected to pose any serious threat, as they offered a meek surrender, losing 0-11, as. India emphatically marched into the semifinals. Chile – one of the improving women hockey teams in the world – and ranked 15th – held India goalless in the opening quarter and went on to take the lead before India offered a firm riposte striking twice in the same quarter and adding two more to cap off a 4-2 victory. Hosts, Japan, is one of India’s recent nemesis. The Redskirts had denied India a direct Olympic berth when they toppled India 2-1 in the final of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Japan have always been a bogey team for India, and given this context, it was incredibly refreshing to see the Indian girls to avoid a down-to-the-wire contest against Japan scoring an early goal only to be equalised by the hosts soon after. It was in the closing stages of the third quarter when India engineered a penalty corner, which saw Gurjit Kaur slam home to make the Indian dug-out feel more assured at the conclusion of the third quarter. India ensured there were no last-minute jitters as they made the most of Japan, taking off their goalkeeper and opting for an extra outfield player with five minutes to go for the final hooter. It was then, Gurjit Kaur struck again in the dying seconds of the match as our girls broke into celebrations- not that they have qualified for the Olympics but earned the right to play in the Olympic qualifying event. The massive chunk of Japanese supporters at the Hiroshima Hockey Stadium wore a crestfallen look although they could draw solace from the fact that they, too, made it to the Olympic qualifying event along with India.

Room for improvement 

The Sjoerd Marijne-coached Indian eves may have earned their Olympic qualifying event berth, but there is plenty of room for improvement. The striking prowess of the side needs significant improvement – India would do well to use both flanks and improve their final finishing. Penalty corner conversion should be our key focus area – Indian eves earned as many as 48 short corners and could score only 14 goals. Even against their weakest opponent Fiji, they scored only six times out of the 18 short corners earned. Teams around the world are always working on ways to tighten their defence lines, and short corner conversions aren’t getting easier anymore – India experienced it – earning a PC is one thing and firing home is quite another. But that should not take anything away from drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur, not because she was India’s top goal-scorer in the tournament with 11 goals, not because she scored in every game of the tourney but because she came to the party when the team needed the most. Her crucial double strikes in both the semifinals against Chile and in the final versus Japan formed a significant part of the Indian celebrations in Hiroshima.
Skipper Rani Rampal looked impressive overall, and the likes of Vandana Katariya, Navneet Kaur and Lalremsiami played their part well along with Navjot Kaur and Jyoti – the forward department has more or less a settled look, and one hopes these bunch of girls keep performing and stay injury-free in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics. Goalkeeper and vice-captain Savita was tested throughout the tournament, although the final scoreline may indicate that she had very little to do given India’s all-win record. The Odisha duo of Deep Grace Eka and Sunita Lakra have manned the defence well, while the midfield exuded confidence with able support from experienced Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Neha Goyal, Monika, Nikki Pradhan and Lilima Minz. What is critical is that the Indian eves build on these positives and qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics like they made the cut for the 2016 Rio Olympics after a hiatus of 36 years – Indian women’s hockey needs a ‘big lift’ and that ‘lift’ can come from a robust showing in the Tokyo Olympics (assuming we qualify).
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