2017’s top 10 — Indian women's hockey team: Asia Cup win was the high-point

The team finally achieved stability with Junior World Cup-winning coach Harendra Singh put in charge. It brought in a more-assured outlook to the team and made it proactive on the field.

The Indian women’s hockey team members pose with medals and trophy after defeating China to win the Asia Cup and qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Kakamigahara , Japan.   -  PTI

If it were uncertain times for the men, it was no better for the Indian women’s hockey team. If the men lost one coach, the women lost two in 2017. Australian Neil Hawgood ended his tenure at the end of 2016, and the women trained under new High Performance Director David John for the first quarter and then were handed over to Sjoerd Marijne before they were informed of the coach moving to the men’s team midway through the European tour.

The constant changes meant the girls hardly knew what or whom to expect every time they assembled for a camp. The team finally achieved stability with Junior World Cup-winning coach Harendra Singh put in charge. It brought in a more-assured outlook to the team and made it proactive on the field.

It was a surprise but also a challenge that both the coach and the girls took on gladly and came out winners by clinching the Asia Cup against higher-ranked opponents. The team had been disjointed, clueless and unsure for the major part of the year. It won the World League Round 2 easily against lower-ranked opponents but struggled in the next round with stronger rivals, finishing eighth with one win, a draw and five losses. The arrival of Harendra saw a new-found confidence in the side, which, it will hope, will continue.

The laurels

Hockey World League Round 2

Gold

Asia Cup

Gold

 

Rani Rampal: It was a good year for us

Making the senior team at the age of 15 is no joke. To do that and be the top-scorer of the tournament takes special talent. Rani Rampal did that in 2009, followed it up with a sterling performance at the Asia Cup to help India win silver and, since then, has been the key every time the Indian women’s hockey team took to the field.

Top-scorer and Young Player of the Tournament at the 2010 World Cup despite India finishing only ninth, Rani has become the team’s lynchpin. When she scored, the team did well. When she faltered, the team stumbled. Now, at the wise old age of 23 and closing in on 200 international caps (she has 193), Rani is already the senior pro in a side that has far too often been in the shadows of the men.

Leading the side to an Asia Cup title against higher-ranked opponents recently was her latest triumph.

How was the last one year, for you, personally and as a team, given so many changes in the side?

It was a good year for us, our entire team played well. What has been really important is that not only have we managed to win tournaments after a long time, our performance also has improved with every tournament, which resulted in the Asia Cup win.

After the disappointment at the World League Semifinals in Johannesburg, how important was the Asia Cup win and how did the team regroup?

The World League Semifinals was one of the toughest events for us. Most of the teams there were ranked higher than us but the ones that were not, we did decently against them. We played teams like USA, England and Argentina, so you can understand the level. But it was also a learning experience, as were all the test matches we played in Europe. Whatever mistakes we made there, we worked hard on them after coming back, and it paid off at the Asia Cup.

How will you compare Neil Hawgood, Sjoerd Marijne and Harendra Singh as coaches?

They have all been good and only helped us learn new things. Everyone brought something new to the team. At the same time, they have all been different as persons but the one common thing among them has been the emphasis on hard work. They have all believed in it and made us work extra to get better.

What are the new things the team has learnt in the last one year?

There is not one specific area that can be pointed out. Hockey is a team game and one cannot isolate any area or department as being more special or separate from the rest. We have done a lot of work in all the areas, whether attack or defence, scoring or holding. So it’s an overall improvement in the team.

What is the expectation now in future with World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games lined up?

For sure, 2018 will be a very crucial year for the team. These are all big, important tournaments, specially the World Cup, which is the biggest of them all. Asian Games will be a ticket to the Olympics so that is crucial as well. But the entire team is working very hard to perform well in these events and I am sure we will give our best.