What fuelled Indian women’s hockey team’s dream run at Asia Cup
Fresh after their victory at the Asia Cup, the Indian women’s hockey team’s mainstays -- Savita Poonia, Rani Rampal, Navjot Kaur and Navneet Kaur -- spoke to HT about their journey to the continental title after 13 years and the progress the squad has made under coach Harendra Singhother sports Updated: Nov 08, 2017 11:16 IST
The fatigue, from the wild celebrations after they beat China in the Asia Cup hockey final and the long-haul flight from Tokyo to Delhi, was very much apparent on their faces.
While India women’s hockey team skipper Rani Rampal kept fidgeting with her shoe laces -- tying and untying them half-a-dozen times – as if she just wanted to get rid of the ‘appendage’, her deputy Savita Poonia, though animated, tried, every now and then, to conceal a yawn.
Rampal, Poonia, along with goalkeeper Navjot Kaur and Navneet Kaur -- the mainstays of the victorious Indian team -- visited Hindustan Times on Tuesday for a candid chat, sharing insights and anecdotes from their journey under coach Harendra Singh.
The victory in the Asia Cup, after 13 long years, had taken a toll on these women and they seemed in dire need of rest.
It was a ‘Chak de’ moment for India in Kakamigahara, Japan, on that eventful evening of November 5 , and the magnitude of the achievement finally sunk in when they arrived in New Delhi where hundreds of well-wishers welcomed them at the airport, while many others across the country sent congratulatory messages on social networking sites.
It was all made possible by the confidence Harendra Singh reposed in the girls.
“The coach was so confident about our victory that before we went into the shootout, he said, ‘Our shootout takers will score three goals and the goalkeeper (Savita) will stop two shots…’ That gave us the confidence,” said Navjot Kaur, who scored the opening goal in the final. “I don’t know, but he perhaps had this premonition -- or the confidence in us -- that the gold was ours even before we went into the nerve-wracking shootout.”
Certainly, the coach has struck a consonant chord with the women in the three-odd months he has been with the team.
“The fact that he is motivated all the time gives us confidence,” added goalkeeper Savita who is also the team deputy. “You have to do this for India…you have to do this for your country, he keeps telling us. This, and the fact, that we can easily explain our viewpoint because of the ease of conversation is a big plus.”
The victory has ended the anguish of the team after it failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in London at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg earlier this year. It has also given the women the motivation to perform in a busy 2018. A whole set of top-notch tournaments including the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Cup are lined up in 2018. And, if they win the Asiad gold in Jakarta, they can automatically qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“When we did not qualify for the World Cup and finished eighth out of the 10 teams in Johannesburg, we consoled ourselves by saying we were as good as our position and we didn’t deserve it,” said skipper Rampal. “ But we motivated ourselves and gave it our all in the camp knowing that we had another chance (in the Asia Cup) and we should focus on that. The Asia Cup was the last opportunity for us to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and we did it.”
Asked if there was pressure on the team during the penalty shootout, Rampal said the team is used to such situations. “This was not the first time... we have faced this before when we go into sudden death where I have to score and she (Savita) has to save, so we are used to it.”
With time to unwind now, Savita, the shopaholic that she is, would want to hit the shopping plazas and malls, while Rampal just wants to listen to rustic Punjabi music, her favourite being Gurdas Mann.