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It was during the Korean tour in March, earlier this year that I earned my 100th international cap. It was an exhilarating feeling to have achieved that particular milestone, but in spite of all my experience, I strongly feel that I always need to give my best in every match.
I am a senior member of the squad now, but there was a time when I hardly knew much about the nuances of the game. I was quite a novice in the junior camp, and it was only when I played along with the seniors that I got the hang of what it takes to be an international hockey player.
Juniors are always excited before big tournaments, and it was the same with me as well. Back then, my seniors stood by me, and now it is my turn to guide the juniors in the team. I feel I must support the youngsters on and off the pitch during the World Cup as it will be a whole new experience for them.
When I was very young, I had heard of girls playing hockey but had never got to see any of them. I had, however, witnessed the boys practising hockey near my house and whenever I saw a stick left unattended, I attempted to hold it to try and play. I cannot claim, however, that I was much inclined towards the game then.
In fact, I had no intention of taking part in the selection trials at school. I remember many of the girls were taking part and standing in a line waiting for their turn, but I tried to exit stealthily. My teacher, however, caught me in the act and insisted that I take part. As it turned out, I was selected and joined a hostel for training.
Subsequently, I met a few girls who had represented the country, and it was then that I seriously contemplated pursuing the sport and becoming an international player myself.
When I started off as a kid, my people at home appreciated the fact that I was winning lots of prizes. For the selection trials at school too, my family did not object because I did not have to leave home.
When it came to leaving home following the district-level selection trials in Sundargarh, my brother was apprehensive.
He had his reservations and was worried as he could not imagine how I could stay in a hostel which was entirely some distance from my house. My mother, however, was well aware of my passion for sports and permitted me to pursue my dream.
While I did admire a lot of senior players, it was never my aim to become like any of them.
I wanted to play my style of hockey and develop a unique identity of my own. It is for that reason that I never attempted to emulate anyone even though I idolised quite a few of them.
My first junior camp was at Bhopal. It always takes at least a week for me to get adjusted to a new town. Initially, we used to feel lonely in the hostels, but now it is a lot easier for me to feel at home in an unknown environment.
In our villages in Odisha, the youngsters are busy with only two activities. One is the academics, and the other is sports. The coaches there are excellent. When we started, we were around 35 in total and our coaches used to motivate us by saying that we had to do well to represent Odisha.
The tournaments where we win medals are always more memorable than the others.
The Junior World Cup was unusual for me, and so were the Asian Games. We could not achieve much at Rio, but playing the Olympics for the first time was memorable too.
My family back home watches all the matches I play in. They feel happy when we win and when we don’t they always advise me to do better. Whenever we lose, it does sadden them quite a bit.
I admire Anita Punt of New Zealand as she is speedy. Modern hockey is fast, so the physical aspect does not come into play much. The reason for that is because all of us pass the ball quickly and that reduces the requirement for opposition players to get too close to each other.
Looking back, I was not particularly confident as a junior, but as a senior, I was more assured of my abilities. At the senior level, we have roles to take on and responsibilities to shoulder.
We do miss home but we have to make sacrifices if we want to achieve something and hockey is our world. To build a career, we have to be clear as to what the priorities are. In the hostel too, things did not seem particularly pleasant initially, but over time, we overcame the misery and enjoyed the atmosphere there.
We are very close to each other in the Bangalore camp now, and it is pretty much like a big family. When we go home, we enjoy ourselves for a day or two, but beyond that, we do not like it much.
We are fully prepared for the World Cup, as the Commonwealth Games was an excellent platform for us to test our skills. We have also played a series of Test matches against Spain, and so the preparations have indeed been elaborate. We are confident of doing well in London.
Our ultimate aim for the World Cup is to reach the absolute summit. For a start, we want to focus on qualifying for the semi-finals