The chief coach Neil Hawgood believes that the Indian women's hockey team needs to work on starting games well, after returning from a disappointing outing at the Hawke's Bay Cup in New Zealand. India finished sixth at the eight-team tournament earlier this month, winning one match out of six, albeit without the services of a few key players.

“One of the biggest weaknesses we have is starting a game,” said Hawgood. “In the quarterfinal against Japan, we let in three goals in a two-and-a-half minute-period (between minutes 5 and 7 of the match). Then the rest of the game was 1-0 to us. So we just don't start well and historically we've always put ourselves behind. It's about being right for the start of anything: whether it's training, running, or going to the gym. Just make sure you're absolutely ready to do what you want to do.”

Ritu Rani agreed. “I feel that we don't prepare with intensity in our warm-ups,” she said. “If we start treating the warm-up like a high-level match, then we can do better in the match itself. We become a little casual in the beginning; we think there's a long way to go in the game.”

Experience missed

Hawgood admitted that India's performance at Hawke's Bay - the team only scored a total of four goals - was not good enough. “New Zealand was actually disappointing. But when you take out 450 international caps (Ritu Rani, Susila Chanu, Anuradha Devi and Jaspreet Kaur were all missing), it's a little bit of a disruption. We know we've got to address that (the lack of goals) but we were still creating enough chances.”

Susila, who to Hawgood's relief will not need a knee reconstruction, is expected to return to training in a brace in the next three weeks. Ritu Rani was rested, having played non-stop, while Anuradha has recovered from her minor hamstring issue. But the absence of Jaspreet, with a long-term back injury, has meant the team has no drag-flicker.

“When other teams have drag-flickers, we don't know what their routine at a PC is going to be. There's an element of suspense,” Ritu Rani said. “But we don't have a flicker; so the other teams know we have limited options.”

India will leave for the UK next week, for a four-match Test series against Great Britain. The team will then travel to Australia to play the host country and Japan before heading to the USA for another Test series. “All four opponents will be in Group B with us at the Olympics,” Ritu Rani noted. “The experience will be vital.”