Last September, when Deepika Thakur underwent ear surgery and had issues with her health, she was unsure whether she would be able to pursue her career in hockey. At 27, age wasn’t on her side as well.
It was determination that helped her see through the phase. She not only made the Rio Olympic squad, but was named vice-captain. At the recent Asian Champions Trophy in Malaysia, where the India women won their maiden title, Deepika played a pivotal role and got the ‘highest scorer of the tournament’ award.
The oldest and most capped member of the team, she scored in the dying moments to help India win the title 2-1 against China.
“The victory means a lot not only to me but the entire team. For years we were trying hard to win the continental title but the best we could do was finish second,” said Deepika, who made her debut in 2003 and has been a regular face in the senior squad.
“Last year, injuries forced me to go through a tough time and I even started questioning myself whether I would be able to stretch my career. But whenever I feel low, something good has happened which makes me realise that hockey is still left in me. Last year, I got Hockey India’s player of the year award and now the highest scorer award. The podium finish and acknowledgements motivate one to perform better,” she added.
So what was the key to the team’s success this time?
“Earlier, whenever we played a draw or lost the opening match, the team used to get de-motivated and that had a negative impact on the remaining matches. This time we played a draw against Japan in the first match and even then the team was confident of winning the title. Since the beginning, coach Neil Hagwood told us that we were the champions and it helped build confidence,” said Deepika.
“At the Olympics, we couldn’t make the quarterfinals, so this title is important keeping in view the 2020 Tokyo Games. If we are unable to beat the Asian countries, how will we beat the Europeans,” she added.
Deepika had put her marriage plans on hold because of the Olympics, but now plans to fulfil her mother’s wish.