Indian hockey's brightest chance to gain the elusive golden double

The men's team — the title favourite — and a "determined and recharged" women's team will aim to clinch gold at the 18th Asian Games.

The Asian Games campaign for the Indian women's team begins on Sunday against Indonesia.   -  PTI

On Saturday morning, hours before the 18th Asian Games officially kicked off at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, the Indian women’s hockey team sweated it out one last time, the training session giving coach Sjoerd Marijne a chance to identify and iron out the kinks. A day earlier, the men had strolled past Bangladesh under the watchful eyes of a satisfied coach Harendra Singh in a practice game that was low on intensity, but high on strategising.

On Sunday, the women will take their first steps against host Indonesia as Indian hockey continues its quest for the elusive golden double at the Asian Games, here. Ranked ninth in the world, the first game isn’t expected to stretch the women much, whose only real challenge in Pool B would be against defending champion Korea — the only nation to achieve the double, its men and women both claiming top spot twice — in 1986 and 1994. The other teams in India’s pool are Kazakhstan and Thailand.

'Recharged team'

The World Cup quarterfinal defeat to Ireland in shootouts was a bitter pill, more so for captain Rani Rampal, who had never missed a shootout till then in her career. But the team has already put the loss behind it.

“You will see a new, more determined and recharged team in competition here,” she asserted after Saturday’s session.

READ: Indian women eye gold to book Olympic berth

A day later, the men would play the same opposition, a late addition to their schedule that saw Indonesia being moved to Pool A to accommodate Kazakhstan as the 12th team in the competition. Earlier scheduled to play its first game of the competition on August 22, the team isn’t too concerned with the last-minute change. “Gives us another match to fine-tune our game,” Harendra said.

Inconsistency the chink in the armour

It hasn’t taken away the defending champion’s focus from the big prize either — gold and a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics, becoming the first nation to do so. As the highest-ranked Asian side and title favourite, the team is clubbed with Korea and Japan in Pool A, along with Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, and would have to guard against its own inconsistency more than anything else.

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The only previous Asiad gold for Indian women came in 1982, but they have managed to return with a medal in every edition since then, including bronze in 2014. The men, too, have won a medal in every edition, barring 2006, but only three have been gold and nine silvers, losing seven of the finals to Pakistan.

They last reached the finals together in 1998, but only the men returned with gold from Bangkok. In 1982, the women won the title, but the men lost to Pakistan in the final. The 2018 edition may well be Indian hockey’s brightest chance to get third time lucky.