From playing in the Rio Olympics after 36 years to recently winning the Asia Cup after 13 years, the team has seen a positive growth. The India women’s hockey team has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two years.

Captain Rani Rampal, though, wants her team to let the success get into their heads and focus on the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Cup all due within a year.

“2018 is a very important year for us and the game,” Rampal told TheField. “There are three major tournaments slated for next year. After winning the Asia Cup, people will naturally expect us to win more success in hockey,” she added.

“We don’t want to take a lot of pressure because it frankly does not help. We will just focus on the areas we need to work on and be mentally and physically strong.”

Making the World Cup spot on merit

By beating China in the final of the Asia Cup, India booked their spot in next year’s World Cup taking place in London. However, India was guaranteed a spot before winning the Asia Cup thanks to South Africa winning the African Cup of Nations. Before the tournament, South Africa had already qualified for the World Cup, thus India qualified due to the vacant spot.

However, Rampal was clear that she wanted the team to qualify on their own merit.

“When we play the World Cup at the back of our minds we will know that we did it on our own merit,” said the 27-year-old.

“If we are at the World Cup because of some other team, we might doubt our capability to be at the event itself. We didn’t want to be known as a team that was given a chance to be at the World Cup.

When we talk about the 1980 Olympics team that qualified, we know that they were invited to be at the tournament. We don’t want to be remembered like that. It was very important to qualify on our own,” said Rampal.

“We are so happy to win the Asia Cup after 13 years. We are happier to qualify for the World Cup on our own merit and that in itself is a big thing. That makes victory sweeter for us,” she added.

From Marijne to Harendra

Rampal praised new coach Harendra Singh for tactfully handling the transition after taking over from Sjored Marijne, who has since assumed the role of the men’s hockey team coach.

“When a new coach comes in place of another he does not change things immediately. It doesn’t work like that,” Rampal said. “The team was working hard and was working on certain things for a long time already. Sjored Marijne also worked brilliantly with us and got us to a good level. When Harendra sir arrived we got a boost in confidence and he was a reputed coach so we knew he would coach us well,” she added.

At the end of the day, it was up to the players to perform and not the coach, Rampal said.

“Every coach has his own strategy and end of the day hockey is a team game. Ultimately it is up to the players to perform. You can give a team the best coach in the world, but if the team doesn’t perform on the field, there is no point of getting such a coach. A coach can only guide us off the field with tactics and strategies.”

Personal joy in Asia Cup triumph

Rampal had a decent tournament herself. She netted five goals including two crucial penalty strikes in the penalty shootout against China in the final.

“Personally, it was a decent tournament for me,” she said. “I won silver in 2009 and bronze in 2013. So I wanted to win gold this time because then I would have all three medals. I still feel I could have done better in the tournament. I could have delivered better penalty corner drives and passes.”

Rampal backed the youngsters stepping up their game at crucial junctures. Rampal said her partnership with forwards Navjot and Navneet, who scored 10 goals between them proved crucial.

“I had a brilliant experience with Navneet and Navjot. They were exceptional on the forward line. We belong to the same academy and have played together for a long time so it was easy to understand each other’s game. We understood where and when do we have to pass the ball to each other and so on,” said Rampal.

Rampal also praised defenders Gurjit Kaur, who was on target with her penalty corner conversions for most part of the Asia Cup. Gurjit struck eight goals out of which seven were penalty corners.

“It is necessary to create penalty corners because field goals are hard to come by in hockey. We had decided to create as much penalty corners as possible. We gave Gurjit the opportunity to convert them and she did a brilliant job,” Rampad added.

Rampal, though, knows that the team still has to improve., especially their knack of giving away penalty corners easily.

“We need to improve our fitness and also work on our defence. We give away penalty corners easily or lose the ball easily. We need to stick to our attacking style of play but also fine tune it a bit,” said Rampal.