Hockey crew taking one tour at a time

Indervir Grewal

Today News Online Service

Chandigarh, February 26

With a whole year of competitions lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian women’s hockey team is racing against time to get as much international exposure as possible before the Tokyo Olympics.

The Olympic Games are just five months away, and hockey teams across the world are keen to click into gear after having missed almost a year of competitions.

While Europe has already seen post-lockdown FIH Pro League matches along with the resumption of the national and continental leagues, the Indian teams have spent almost a year in training.

Important tours

Even as the women’s team is away on its second tour this year, the men’s team has not seen any competitive action since February last year. The men’s team, though, will get to face top teams in the Pro League in April-May. And as the women’s team is not competing in the Pro League, its recent tour of Argentina and the upcoming Germany tour will be crucial in its preparations for the Olympics.

“It was a very important tour because we will be able to use this tour as a benchmark for our Olympics preparations,” Indian women’s coach Sjoerd Marijne said of the Argentina tour.

In their month-long tour of Argentina, India played seven matches — two against the junior team, two against the B team and three against the senior national team. Playing competitive hockey after a long break, Marijne used the tour for experimentation. “We tried all the 25 core probable players in the first four matches. We were also experimental in the sense that players were deployed in a number of roles to have a better idea of who fits where,” Marijne said.

Attitude shift

“Of course, without match practice, there was a bit of rustiness initially. But we had worked a lot on our fitness. We had the rare opportunity of being in camp almost for nine months. It’s the reason why our fitness level didn’t drop,” Marijne said.

Marijne said that one of his goals was to “see where we stand against a No. 2 side in the world”. “Ahead of the Olympics, it was important to test ourselves against a team like Argentina so that we would know what we need to improve upon,” he said.

Though India did not have a win, they ended the tour with a 1-1 draw against Argentina. Despite the results, Marijne was impressed by the team’s attitude. “We played our strongest side in the last three games and did very well. We’d have ideally liked a win on the tour but still, I am happy with the effort,” he said.

“A very positive improvement in this team has been their attitude. There is a big difference now when they are up against the top sides in the world. A few years ago, the players would tell each other to keep the scoreline down but now they are trying to go for a win and were really disappointed when they couldn’t do so after coming so close,” he said.

Marijne said the team knows the areas that need improvement. “We need to play consistently in all four quarters and against a team like Argentina, you can’t defend a goal-difference of just one goal. You need to score more. Though, compared to previous years, we made good opportunities in the circle, we need to improve our conversion rate,” he said.

Confidence booster

The team’s next assignment is four matches against No. 3 Germany starting tomorrow. Captain Rani said the 18-member team is raring to go. “Argentina tour helped us gain confidence. We are just months away from the Tokyo Olympics, and these matches against top teams will help us finding loopholes and gain momentum before the Games,” Rani said.

“It is going to be a totally different experience than the Argentina tour. From our skills to fitness level, everything will be tested, and that’s what we as a team want. It will be a challenging tour,” she added.

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