WHEN THE INDIAN EVES launch their campaign in the Hawke’s Bay Cup in Hastings, New Zealand on April 2, there will be two things paramount on the minds on the team’s think-tank: fitness and converting the short corners into goal.
These are the two key areas that Chief Coach Neil Hawgood, his coaching staff and senior members of the squad, have singled out for special attention during the recent training and preparatory camp. If India, ranked 13th on the FIH World Ranking list, are to outplay Black Sticks, ranked 4th, and China a place behind, the Indian girls would need to sustain the intensity of their game for the entire duration of the match. Even Ireland, which is ranked below India, is capable of springing a surprise.
“In the past we have lost some crucial matches due to fitness and not being able to convert the penalty corners. In this camp we have been paying extra attention to these two critical aspects. In fact, you can say that our Chief Coach, Neil Hawgood is obsessive about improving the fitness levels of those in the camp. In modern hockey, converting the penalty corners makes a huge difference between winning and losing. We have to learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure they are not repeated,” said Deepika, who will lead the team in the Hawke’s Bay Cup in the absence of Ritu Rani.
Deepika received the Hockey India Player of the Year Award for Women in the Hockey India 2nd Annual Awards in Bengaluru on 26th March 2016.
“To get this recognition by Hockey India right before the Hawke’s Bay Cup is undoubtedly a big boost. I am overjoyed to be selected for the most coveted Hockey India awards in recognition of my efforts. I have always strived to give my best playing for the Indian team. This recognition will continue to spur me to do even better in the upcoming tournaments and years to come,” said Deepika.
The New Zealand outing will also give the Chief Coach and the Selectors a chance to see how some of the junior players who have been drafted in the camp fare at the senior level. This will give them more options to play with when selecting the final squad for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games few months down the line.
“The Olympic squad has not been announced yet. Currently, the entire core group is training at the camp. So, everyone is very keen to perform in the Hawke’s Bay Cup to brighten their chances for making the cut for the Olympics. This is good in the long-term because we would have more options when selecting the side for Rio,” said the Captain.
The prospect of taking on higher ranked teams in the Hawke’s Bay Cup is not weighing down the 18-member team.
“It’s good that we are playing these teams in the tournament. It will not only give us, and especially the youngsters, critical exposure of playing against good sides, it will also prepare us mentally to take on even better sides in the Olympics. Also, the improved fitness levels of our players give us the confidence of playing against higher ranked sides. We have been telling ourselves that rankings only matter to a certain extent. The final result depends on how the team plays on that particular day. We are not at all daunted to play against any team,” said Deepika.
Though, doing well in the Hawke’s Bay Cup is the immediate target of the Indian women’s squad, the girls are well aware that history beckons them at the Rio Olympics for which they have qualified after a long wait of 36 years.
“There is a huge amount of excitement among us regarding the Olympics. For Indian women’s hockey it’s a dream come true. People think it’s still some months away, but if you ask me, we believe that there is very little time left. Since, we have made it to the Olympics after such a long time; we want people to take note of Indian women’s hockey. It’s a huge opportunity for us,” said Deepika before signing off.
The Indian Women Hockey Team departs today for New Zealand for the Hawke’s Bay Cup which is commencing from April 2nd.