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From farmlands to astroturf, the amazing journey of India’s women hockey players

Most of the players in the Indian women’s hockey team come from a farming background, and have worked really hard to eke out a living

other sports Updated: Nov 06, 2017 20:21 IST
Sharad Deep
India won the Women’s Asia Cup Hockey 2017 after beating China in the final on Sunday.
India won the Women’s Asia Cup Hockey 2017 after beating China in the final on Sunday.(PTI)

The Indian women’s hockey team is one jubilant group after becoming continental champions, defeating China in the final of the Asia Cup in Kakamigahara, Japan on Sunday. It was always an ebullient group but the reason behind the turnaround was not merely their enthusiasm on the field.

It had more to do with the newfound work ethos. Most of the girls come from a farming background, and who really work hard to eke out a living. And coach Harendra Singh worked on channeling that ethos to make it a winning hockey unit.

READ | Women’s Asia Cup hockey: Satisfied to qualify for World Cup on merit - Rani

Focus the key

The coach told them they only needed to change their mindset – if they could work like windmills at home then why not on the hockey turf. It clicked and India beat the sturdy Chinese girls in sudden death to bag their second Asia Cup title after 13 years.

“It’s (the win) purely the success of players and my job was to encourage them,” Harendra told Hindustan Times from Hong Kong on his way back to India on Monday afternoon. “The girls have always worked hard, and I just told them ‘put the same effort on the field and success will be yours’. This mantra made all the difference,” he said.

The win not just earned them the title of Asian champions but also helped them qualify for next year’s hockey World Cup in London.

It was a nerve-wracking win over China and all credit goes to the ream, especially skipper Rani, who struck the final goal, and goalkeeper Savita, who foiled the Chinese attempts, to seal a 5-4 win.

READ | India beat China in thriller to win 2017 Women’s Asia Cup hockey

Eyeing the next step

However, this is not the time to rest on the laurels, and the future course is already being charted. “Now, the mission is to help this team to do well in the World Cup. Nothing is impossible, but to make things possible one needs to put one’s best foot forward,” he said.

Harendra, who had led the junior men’s team to World Cup victory in Lucknow in December, had initially refused to coach the women’s team as he felt it would be a different cup of tea.

But what Harendra discovered was the resolve in the side was the same. “The perspective of players was different but their resolve for victory was the same. I didn’t have to tweak my coaching methods just because now I was a women’s team coach,” he said.

The coach disagreed his current role was a climb down from his earlier assignment as the junior men’s team coach. “Look, I was given the job in September. I love challenges and today I am happy I could live up to people’s expectations.”

Praising the team as a bunch of highly-talented players, he said the girls are following the same pattern of play as their male counterparts. “The only difference is the thinking of the people watching the game. Now, we also do a lot of leg work before a match. That is one of the reasons for the team’s success,” he said.