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'We had the medal in our grasp': The 'one mistake' that cost India at the Junior Hockey World Cup

India’s junior hockey team vice-captain Ishika Chaudhary and star striker Mumtaz Khan recount the heartbreaking final moments of the World Cup bronze medal match.

We had the medal in our grasp: The one mistake that cost India at the Junior Hockey World Cup

Ishika Chaudhary (centre) rallies the Indian defence at the Junior Hockey World Cup (Hockey India)


Dipankar Lahiri

Published: 22 April 2022 1:19 PM GMT

With less than 100 seconds left before the final hooter, India's 2-1 lead over England seemed to have been enough for a bronze medal at the recent Junior Hockey World Cup.

The team's star striker, 19-year-old Mumtaz Khan, could feel the touch of the medal in her grasp.

"We let that match slip out of our hands. We dominated possession, we seemed to have managed to outfox them, tire them out. The match was in our hands, the medal was too. Just one mistake happened, and the whole plan changed in one minute. Maybe we needed someone to take responsibility of the situation in those tense moments. For the tiniest errors, the medal that we had worked to get for so many years slipped away," she said.

The team's vice-captain Ishika Chaudhary, a central defender who has already made the jump to the senior team, also pointed to the 'one or two mistakes' that cost them.

"We cannot blame anyone for such skill mistakes, it can happen to anyone. It feels terrible when things are snatched from you, but we have to learn. I think this 4th place finish will teach us more than a bronze medal would have," she told The Bridge.

2013 and 2022 - India's upward graph

When India had won their only medal in the history of this tournament in 2013, many of the star players of the current senior team had been part of the junior team.

Sushila Chanu remembers that giant-killing run as a "fun trip" where nothing was expected of them. "People were surprised when we ended up beating up England to win bronze," she said.

Vandana Katariya, also a member of the 2013 junior team, said, "The junior team now is much faster than we were then. The one thing that doesn't change is that sport allows only one winner. They fought for the bronze till the end."

England claimed their best ever finish at the Junior Hockey World Cup with the bronze this time. In a direct reversal of fortunes from 2013, they claimed a 3-0 win in the penalty shootout after scores were tied at 2-2. "Revenge," their coach Simon Letchford smiled at the cameras as the match ended with the Indian girls in tears.

"There was some pressure because we knew we had to win at least bronze - because our seniors have done it before. 4th place was not good enough. We believed that we were good enough, and we almost were - just not for that final minute," rued vice-captain Ishika.

Striker Mumtaz, the highest scorer for the team in the tournament with 8 goals, credited the side's impressive display to the time spent training with the senior side.

"Everything we have learned is from them. We played 6 matches against the senior team in Bangalore in December. We lost the first match 8-0. Then we played 3-4 matches in Bhubaneswar just before leaving for the World Cup. We managed to draw one of those matches, but even the 1-2 and 2-3 losses felt like wins for us. Those made everybody believe that we could do something special. We should have, we were a good team," she said.

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