Nihit Sachdeva - Hello and welcome to a new episode of the Sportstar Podcast. This is your host Nihit Sachdeva, and joining me on the pod today is Uthra Ganesan, our correspondent who covered the recently concluded Women’s Asian Champions Trophy in Ranchi where India won the title. Thiis is India’s second title. The maiden title came in 2016.
This trophy comes less than a month after what transpired at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou (where India finished third). The WACT took place in the middle of a Cricket World Cup which is obviously a very huge thing in our country. Uthra, welcome on the podcast. How was your experience of covering the event in Ranchi?
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Uthra Ganesan - Ranchi has always had good crowds for hockey. It’s the first time for women’s hockey because the previous instances were for men’s team but they’ve always come up. I remember, in 2011 national games, the Jharkhand men’s team was playing one of the knockout matches. Quite a few trees have been cut but there were trees all around at that time and I remember people climbing those trees at that time to watch that game. So, nothing’s changed much now, except there are fewer trees around, but the crowds are still there. In fact, not just inside the stadium on the final day but giant screens that had been put up outside - about a dozen of them. It’s a huge ground - the Morabadi ground - where there was parking facility. It was chock-a-block with people who could not get into the stadium. The official capacity of the venue is, I think, between 7.5k to 8.5k but there were at least 14-15 k because they don’t have seats. The seats are just on one side, the other three are concrete stands. So, it is easier to squeeze people in. It was actually nice to see such crowds coming in for a women’s tournament because women’s hockey rarely gets to play in front of home crowd. It was a great experience to see all that crowd and of course, the team doing well always brings in even more people by word of mouth.
Nihit - Before we discuss how India performed, I just wanted to ask. If we could have an Asian Champions Trophy for men’s team before the Asian Games, was it not possible to have the same for the women’s team? Considering Asian Games was an Olympic qualifier and facing the teams you would be facing at the Asian Games in the build-up would have been ideal preparation. The team won the title but I don’t know what was at stake, maybe just the ranking and basically where you will be in the Olympic qualifiers.
Uthra - In an in an ideal world, yes, but then again, it’s not like the Indian team went in without any practice or they didn’t have any match experience before going there. In fact, I think after the Tokyo Olympics, this was perhaps the one of the most well prepared teams that went into Hangzhou. They played in Europe, they played Australia. They played all the big teams. They played Holland, New Zealand, Spain. They played the top teams and these were not friendly matches or test matches. They were proper tournament. They may not be very highly ranked tournaments, but there were again three-nation or four-nation tournaments that they played in. So, it’s not like they went in without any practice, and given the fact that India are the highest ranked side in Asia, playing against Australia or New Zealand or Holland or Spain should have given them a lot more confidence and lessons going into the Asian Games because the other teams are all ranked below them. So, yes, in an ideal world, you would like to know (your opponents), but then again, if you remember, when the men’s tournament happened, there was a lot of cribbing from a lot of other teams because they didn’t want to get injured before the crucial Asian games. You can’t make everyone happy all the time. There will always be people questioning whether this could have been done before or not. Yes, it could have been done before, but I don’t think playing these teams before or after the Asian Games would have made any difference to India’s performance at the Asian Games. Yes, winning the title here is great. And yes, there was nothing much at stake as you said. But then, I think, less than two months before the Olympic qualifiers when you’ll have Germany and New Zealand and US coming here, it would be a huge morale boost and the rankings do matter because it’s the rankings that did finally decide who plays where and of course, India would play here, but for the other teams, that would make a difference. It’s a huge morale booster for the team to play at home because now, they know what it is like to play in front of a huge crowd, in terms of 15,000 people cheering you and screaming at you all the time. They would realize that they would know how to handle it. They also have two months to understand whether you take it as a pressure or as an added advantage when the crowd cheers you because the last time they did this against USA for the Olympic Qualifier, it was played in Bhubaneshwar and there wasn’t much crowd at that time. The stadium, of course, is big and there were people, but this was a completely different atmosphere that the girls haven’t really experienced ever before. So in that sense, I think, yes, the tournament didn’t have anything much at stake. But yeah, the intangibles I’m sure will help the team once the qualifiers start.
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