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After Rio Olympics slump, new hope in Indian women’s hockey team

After 14 years, a new-look Indian women’s national hockey team, led by Rani, is out to bring back the golden days. Their first stop is the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018

other sports Updated: Mar 26, 2018 13:05 IST
Sharad Deep
Sharad Deep
Lucknow
Commonwealth Games 2018,Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018,Gold Coast 2018
Indian women’s national hockey team captain Rani (R) will hope to lead the side to glory at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018.(AFP)

After bagging their maiden gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the Indian women’s hockey team went on to be crowned champions at the AfroAsian Games in 2003 and the Asia Cup in 2004. The successes put the Suraj Lata Devi-led team on the world map. After 14 years, a new-look India side, led by Rani, is out to bring back the golden days. Their first stop is the Commonwealth Games. Other important tournaments are the Asian Games in Jakarta, World Cup in London and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

“We would like to begin with gold in Gold Coast. We have done our homework well and nothing less than a gold will satisfy us,” said Rani. The women’s team won gold in 2002 Manchester, defeating the hosts 3-2 in extra-time. They won silver in 2006 Melbourne, losing to the hosts. However, the team could manage only a fifth place in the 2010 and 2014 editions. The slump continued and the team finished 12th and last at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, prompting Hockey India to make some drastic changes to the coaching staff.

They roped in junior men’s World Cup-winning team coach Harendra Singh and the fortunes changed. The team won the Asia Cup last year, thus qualifying for this year’s World Cup.

“There is a change in the players’ mindset. They are more focused and are playing attacking hockey,” said Harendra. “The team has the capability to beat any side in the world now. Ranking makes no difference if you are playing well. We will focus on our game (in Gold Coast), rather than look at the strengths and weaknesses of the rivals.”

In the 44-year-old history of Indian women’s hockey (when they first began competing at multi-nation events), the team has won six gold, including two at the Asia Cup, five silver and seven bronze at international events. The Commonwealth Games will be their last major event before the women’s hockey World Cup in London in July-August.

“We aren’t thinking about what happened at the last Commonwealth Games. We are a balanced side. The biggest change is in the attitude of the players, who are eager for success,” said Rani. Ranked 10th in the world, India are clubbed with world No 2 England, South Africa (ranked 14th), Malaysia and Wales in Pool A.

“We need to play aggressive hockey against all teams in the pool,” said Harendra, adding the team’s success on the recent tour of

South Africa was a morale booster.

India are confident of making it to the knockout, and once there, the pressure will be from higher-ranked teams like Australia, England and NZ.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Rani: After leading India to victory at the Asia Cup and a 3-1 series win in South Korea, the seasoned forward Rani will have to lead the attack if India are to regain the title.

Vandana Kataria: The forward, who has played 135 matches, is swift inside the penalty circle. Was India’s top scorer in the side’s bronze-medal win at the 2013 Junior World Cup.

Deepika Thakur: Returning from a serious injury after almost a year that also saw her get married, the backbone of Indian defence will be hoping o make up for lost time. She issed out on the Asia Cup, which India won last year, so this will be a massive opportunity for her to win a major edal.

First Published: Mar 26, 2018 10:30 IST