After a superb display of her relentless talent in the FIH Junior Women's Hockey World Cup, Bichu Devi Kharibam— the second-in-command of the Indian goalpost after captain Savita Punia — is all set to shoulder big responsibilities in the senior team at FIH Women's World Cup, beginning on July 1.
The 22-year-old has moved on from the disappointing fourth-place finish in her Junior World Cup outing and is beaming with confidence before playing one of the biggest tournaments of her career. Glimpses of her encouraging performance could be seen during the team's outing at the recently concluded FIH Pro Hockey League. Bichu shone like a reassuring successor of Punia. The Manipur custodian of the Indian goalpost credits past learnings as being her biggest teacher.
Bichu Devi Kharibam (Source: Hockey India)
Talking to The Bridge
, in an exclusive interview, Bichu says, "When we played in the Junior World Cup, it was actually after a long time we were playing outside our country and were adjusting to the new conditions after the Covid-induced break. Till the Junior World Cup, players were practising among themselves. The pressure was there from the very beginning. I conceded an easy goal in the first match. But slowly, I got back into my groove. I got to work on my Junior World Cup mistakes in the Pro Hockey League against some of the top teams and players. I am way more confident now before heading into the Senior World Cup and I am going to enjoy myself,"
Savita Punia's successor
Bichu Devi looked quite seamless, transitioning into the senior squad stepping into the shoes of Savita in rotations and looking composed in front of imminent dangers against Belgium, Argentina and USA. Her anticipatory dives to save penalty corners and even some tomahawk scorchers impressed even the former coach of the team Sjoerd Marijne who was handling broadcast responsibilities at the Pro League. Bichu shares that her temperament has been influenced by the senior team and Savita. "See, I am playing in a set-up that finished fourth at the Olympics, and even defeated Australia. I am always in awe of seeing the zeal of the seniors in the team who are ever-hungry to perform to their fullest. Savita didi keeps on finetuning my game and instructs me on my strategy. Main Hoon Na, she says when she thinks I am making some mistake. I couldn't have asked for a better mentor," explains Bichu.
Interestingly, the youngster's rise to being a responsible goalkeeper wouldn't have been possible sans an unfortunate denial from the football squad. Growing up in Manipur hills, Bichu's passion was channelised into football. As a kid, she didn't know about hockey. "I was passionate about football since my childhood. As a kid, I played with senior boys from my neighbourhood villages. Seeing my passion, my father took me to the Sports Authority of India in Manipur for football trials. But I got late by ba day because all the positions in the team got filled. A person from SAI then asked me to give a trial for hockey instead and surprisingly, I got selected," quips Bichu.
She even reveals that playing as a goalkeeper was a matter of coincidence. "I was playing hockey regularly and had honed my skills as a forward, scoring goals. But in a state-level tournament in 2015, our team's goalkeeper did not turn up and I was assigned the goalkeeping responsibility on my coach's instruction. I was reluctant but I started impressing as a goalkeeper on my first day at the job." There has been no turning back since then.
At the age of 13, she became a part of the Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy where she was mentored by coach Paramjeet Singh. Bichu went on to represent India at various levels starting with the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, where the Indian team finished in the second position.
After becoming the cynosure of all eyes at the Junior World Cup and learning from her flaws, Bichu is confident that she can help her team put on a better show in the senior circuit and particularly when the hope of the nation has doubled since the day India had beaten Australia at the Olympics. "That particular day, watching my seniors play gave me goosebumps. I knew that will be a part of this team and I now completely understand what it means to carry the big dream on our shoulders," concludes Bichu Devi.