"Good chemistry, mental strength" — Indian team readies itself for Women's Hockey World Cup
The Bridge decodes with players of the Indian Women's Hockey team about their chemistry, learnings and road ahead before World Cup
It has barely been 10 months since the Indian women's hockey team shocked the fans and world alike after they defeated three-time Olympic gold medalist Australia and rubbed shoulders with giants Argentina in the semi-final. For a team which ended up with a wooden spoon in the previous edition, this was a massive achievement despite finishing 4th after a loss against Great Britain in the bronze-medal match.
It was a statement of intent and an indication that the world is witnessing the rise of a dominant Indian women's hockey team. Riding on the confidence of the Olympic journey, the Indian team finished third in the recently concluded FIH Pro League and is raring to go at the 2022 Women;s Hockey World Cup under the watchful eyes of Janneke Schopman and the leadership of Savita Punia.
India is placed in Group B in the tournament happening in Netherlands, alongside England, New Zealand and China.
Ahead of the tournament, The Bridge spoke with some players of the Indian team about their road ahead and how they are approaching the upcoming World Cup.
How enriching was the experience of the Olympics?
Gurjit Kaur: Olympics gave us new energy, a lot of learnings and immense love from our fans. We built on the confidence of the Olympics and our team now knows how to handle the pressure of playing at the highest level. It was my first Olympics and we were nervous. But it was a learning curve for each one of us. We were enjoying every match and got to experience a lot of new things.
Sharmila Devi: Olympics was a rollercoaster ride for us. We started getting better with every game and gained confidence. Beating Australia gave us the required morale boost, but eventually we made a few mistakes to lose the medal. It was one of the best experiences you can have as an athlete.
What is the difference between playing under Sjoerd Marijne and Janneke Schopman?
Deep Grace Ekka: Sjoerd Sir used to maintain the morale of the team and the way he used to motivate the team was our driving force. He made us believe that we can win. Janneke, on the other hand, has set the bar herself for us and expects us to deliver high levels of performance. Best part under both coaches has been that been the harmony among the juniors and seniors and the positive environment.
Vandana Katariya: Both the coaches have different methods of training. Sjoerd Sir had a different style of training while Janneke focuses on different areas. For example, under Janeke we are working on our breathing to maintain our energy levels and we are working on individual improvements.
How does the absence of Rani Rampal at the World Cup impact the team?
Gurjit Kaur: Rani is certainly a very big miss. We have learnt from her and now it's on us to implement it to our strength. We are united as a team with every individual aware of their responsibility.
What are the learnings from the FIH Pro League & beating Champions Argentina?
Lalremsiami: We had played Argentina in Olympics and when we faced them this time, we were already aware of how they play and what are the tactics that can unsettle them. This understanding went a long way in helping us get that win.
Sharmila Devi: We had lost to Argentina closely before this and it was certainly on our minds, but we approached this match with a new way. We wanted to win and have our revenge for the Tokyo loss. It was a great win.
Vandana Katariya: We started the league strongly and finished on a high. Our learnings were huge as Argentina is the best team in the world and we managed to defeat them. It has given us a lot of confidence going into the World Cup.
How is the dressing room environment with a mix of seniors and juniors?
Lalremsiami: We have a family-like environment in the dressing room. When I came to the team, I had communication issues due to the language barrier, but the seniors have always been to my aid. They have supported me well, teaching me everything and taking care of me. I am learning Hindi and English from my seniors and I hope it improves more (laughs).
Deep Grace Ekka: We have brilliant chemistry between the juniors and seniors. It is a cycle which goes on, we were supported by our seniors and now it is our time to support our juniors. Whenever we win, we focus on the positives during the games and have a good laugh about it. During losses we try to move on and focus on the next game while learning from our mistakes.
What is the plan for the upcoming Hockey World Cup?
Deep Grace Ekka: We have analysed our opponents and we will look to focus on the areas where our strength lies. We will focus on one game at a time and keep our mentality the same which we have had since the Olympics.
Vandana Katariya: We will have the same approach as we had during the Olympics. We need to start well and give our best into every game. We have worked hard for this and came a long way since last year.
Gurjit Kaur: When I played my first World Cup, I was a junior with no experience. It is different this time. We, as a team, are aiming to play without any pressure and with a free mind. I have learnt to handle pressure now and I think we have a team which is fit and mentally strong to challenge for the medal, which I am sure, we will.
Indian Women's team have made a case for themselves with strong performances. The World Cup will be a stern test for the team and the mentality it has fostered in the last 10 months.