Rani Rampal: ‘We’re much fitter and stronger than before’

The Indian men’s and women’s teams return home after having won their respective contests at the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo.

Rani Rampal says her team’s mental strength was good to see, in the test event.   -  Getty Images

The Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams won their respective contests at the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo but the learnings for both sides were more about understanding themselves.

And both proved willing to adapt and improve. If the men bounced back from a disappointing last-minute loss to New Zealand in the group stages to win the final with a comprehensive 5-0 scoreline, the women remained undefeated all through, including a last-minute equaliser against World No. 2 Australia.

The main difference between the two sides was whereas the women played to full strength, the men’s side experimented by resting a few seniors and playing youngsters and seniors returning from injury to get a better idea of the squad in the lead-up to the Olympic qualifiers later this year.

“One of the objectives of this tour was to try and broaden the player base not only for selections but also in leadership. What I saw of Harmanpreet (captain) and Mandeep Singh, of leading the group, it was very good. Another objective was to give S. V. Sunil the opportunity to prove himself for November and I think we have been able to do that,” men’s chief coach Graham Reid told Sportstar on the teams’ return here on Thursday.

Blessing in disguise

Reid also insisted that the loss to New Zealand was a blessing in disguise. “Part of was happy, almost, that we had that (loss) because it provides them an opportunity to look inwards and understand how to not let that happen again. That 5-0 win against [New Zealand] in the league phase would have put a different perspective on the final. We were able to analyse the things that happened in the last 5-10 minutes and get into the heads of the guys and learnt some things,” Reid admitted.

While the men had a blip, the women learnt to never give up irrespective of the opposition. “The team’s mental toughness was really good. We know now that we are much fitter and stronger than before, so we had to hold on and not give up till the very end. Hockey has changed a lot, every second counts and we have seen a lot of teams scoring winners in the very end,” captain Rani Rampal said when asked about the team’s fightback against Australia and the equaliser through penalty corner in the dying seconds.

Rani added that staying undefeated in the tournament had raised the team’s confidence. “It gives us confidence that if we perform well in every game and focus on our jobs, we can beat any team at any time,” she said.