Monday, August 2, 2021 will be one of the most important days in the history of women’s hockey in India. The Indian women’s hockey team scripted history by not just beating favourites Australia in the quarterfinal of the Tokyo Olympics, but marched into the semi-finals for the first time ever.
Not many had given the Women in Blue a chance beyond quarters. Going into what was India’s only third Olympic Games, and the first for more than half the present team, India was ranked 10th in the FIH rankings, with only South Africa ranked lower than them in the 12-team field. Chief coach Sjoerd Marijne had declared that the realistic target of the team was the quarterfinal. A target he thought was achievable post India’s poor performance in the Rio Games where it lost four of its five pool matches.
On Monday though, Marijne and his team dared to dream. Especially since the team had started with a stutter and a loss, but gradually began warming up to the competition. Said Marijne, “This match also proves dreams can come true. If you start believing and you keep believing and you keep working hard, things can happen. You have to do the work to fulfil your dreams and that is what we did today.”
Hockey fraternity and fans had to pinch themselves hard to accept that both the men and women are among the last four teams in the competition. The women for the first time, and the men for the first time in 41 years. Most were at loss of words while expressing their happiness.
Sita Gosain, former hockey captain of Team India, could not hide the delight in her voice while speaking about the women’s team’s performance in Tokyo thus far. “It is indeed a reason to be happy! Qualifying for Olympics in itself is so difficult, we know it; to come so far, it is beyond our expectations from the girls!”
Speaking about the team’s superlative performance against the Hockeyroos on Monday, Gosain said, “Every match at the Olympics is difficult. But Australia didn’t play well today. It also shows that if you have prepared well and execute your plans well, you can beat anyone.”
Col. Balbir Singh, former Olympian who was part of the team that won the bronze medal in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, and has also coached the women’s hockey team in late 90s, is pleasantly surprised at the team’s performance thus far. “This entire team played with a lot of confidence. Beating Australia to reach Olympics semi-final is a huge thing. The received the ball very well, defended well and the goal keeper Savita was outstanding today.”
The manner in which the girls combined well to attack from the start as well as defend strongly had raised the hopes of Col. Balbir Singh. “I thought Australia would be a tough match, but we had the upper hand in the first half. That is when I started thinking that this team can do something.”
Renowned hockey coach Dr. Anil Kumar Bansal, who has worked at grass root levels of hockey for decades, is ecstatic. “Reaction? is there even need to give one? Yes, for many it was an unexpected result, but the girls played so well. The combination of attack and defence by them was good.”
Goal keeper Savita received lavish praise for her superb performance, withstanding all the pressure mounted by Australia in the third and fourth quarters. “She has the experience, has been around for many years now. She is giving a lot of life to the team with her work under the goal. She is very confident, you can see the way she is coming out and defending the goal,” said Bansal.
He urged public and hockey fraternity not to compare the achievements of the women’s team with the men. “The boys have a head start in terms of results and it will be unfair to compare the two teams,” said Bansal.
There was a consensus though that given the way the women’s team has progressed in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, women’s hockey too will get a massive fillip at home. “This performance will and can change everything in the country as far as women’s hockey is concerned,” averred Bansal.
The women’s semi-final match against Argentina is on August 4.
Gosain is bullish about India’s chances against a very settled, experienced Argentinian side. “If they do as well as they did against Australia, then I am sure they will give Argentina a run for their money!”
Col. Balbir Singh too echoed similar sentiments. “They way they played against Australia the girls can hold Argentina, though the latter will be much more tougher than Australia.”
Regardless of where the women’s hockey team’s journey ends, this much is for sure: the Rani Rampal-led team has set the benchmark for later teams to achieve or overhaul.
Courtesy – www.theweek.in