Akshata Abaso Dhekale took another step in her hockey development last week when she made her senior India debut. Turning out against Germany in the FIH Hockey Pro League matches, the 20-year-old from Maharashtra asserted how happy she was to make it to this stage in the sport.

“It was a very proud moment for me to be a part of the team. My family was very happy as well. I made my debut in the home ground and it was an unforgettable experience,” Akshata said.

She further opened up on her own individual performance and revealed what her teammates told her after the two games.

“My teammates have told me that performance was good considering it was my first tournament. But I felt I made a few errors in the second game due to pressure. I gained a lot of experience in the two games and I hope to improve my game going forward,” she added.

Dhekale, who hails from Satara district of Maharashtra, trained at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune, and went on to lead Maharashtra at the Junior Nationals tournament in Kerala in 2019. After a string of solid performances, she was selected for the junior national camp, and was a part of the junior team that travelled to Chile for a six-match series last year.

Making it to the senior team though, she’s learnt the differences in the two levels.

“There is a lot of difference between playing at the junior and senior levels. The game speed is quite high at the senior level and the standards are very high,” she said.

“Playing against Germany, I realised I have to improve quite a lot to play regularly at this level. I am ready to work hard to ensure I keep getting a chance to play consistently for the senior team.”

Both the games against Germany were stretched to a shootout after 1-1 draw in the regulation time. While Germany picked up a 2-1 win in the shootout in the first game, India won the second one with a 3-0 score line in the shootouts.

Speaking on the team’s performances in the double-header, Dhekale said: “The team performed really well. In the first game, we gave a good fight, but it was a hard luck that we did not win in the shootouts.

“But we made a good comeback in the second game as we created a lot of attacking moves and we maintained a good coordination among all the players. I learned a lot about how to handle pressure in that match,” she added.