Soon after the 2-2 draw against Australia, coach of the Indian women’s hockey team Sjoerd Marijne asked his players how they felt about their performance in the match. He saw disappointed faces despite the fact that India had made a comeback twice to earn a draw against the number two team in the world.
While he wanted the team to win, there was a refreshing change that Marijne saw in the players after the hard draw.
“It was a good thing to see them disappointed,” Marijne said. “They knew they could have won that game against Australia. So it was good that they knew what they could have done.”
At the Olympics test event in Tokyo last week, the women’s team returned home with the gold medal after beating Japan 2-1 in the final and capturing the deserved title.
It is a huge result before the Olympic qualifier which will be held in October, most probably in Bhubaneshwar, India.
For the length of the tournament, India put up a performance that would make any coach proud and Marijne expected that from his team.
“I was very happy with the consistency in the last two games,” he said. “I told the team that this is what we need to continue. There is no going back from here and this consistency is the benchmark.”
Undoubtedly, India were the most consistent team of the tournament. They began with a 2-1 win over Japan, drew 2-2 against Australia, held China to a goalless draw before the Japan win.
China was the only team India failed to score against but according to Marijne, that was a “very high level” match that India played, just like the final against Japan.
It was the draw against Australia that best describes India’s performance in the tournament. Not only were they subjected to some tough hockey, but they also managed to keep bouncing back from the tough situations, thanks to some luck.
Marijne, however, wanted a tighter performance from India against Australia. He wasn’t prepared to settle for anything mediocre.
“In the Australia game, we didn’t play our best which was hurting,” he said. “I told the girls that the level has to be higher than this. Thankfully, they felt they could have done more to win the game. That’s a good mentality.”
Apart from the first game, the Indian defence was at the top of their game and what pleased Marijne was the return to form for goalkeeper Savita Punia who was a like a wall against Australia and China.
“Savita played well in this tour and it is great,” he said. “In a tournament with four high-quality teams, it was a good result and we had a good match.”
Prior to the tournament, the Indian team had a special training camp in Bengaluru the coach made them improve their communication. Marijne asked his team to assess the match situations better and scan what is happening on the ground.
It was an aspect that Marijne watched closely in the test event and was happy that his team could pull off what they had trained for.
“We had focused points on a few points which we wanted to improve,” he said. “Communication, among the members on the ground, was one of them.
“The second was the pre-scanning. Before you pass the ball, look at the field, scan the team and make connections with your team.”
But now the challenge to improve from here is what awaits the Indian team. It heads to Great Britain for a five-match series before the all-important Olympic qualifiers where no slip-ups will be allowed.
“We’re just showed our game,” Monika said. “We played very well here [in Tokyo] and our next step is to qualify for the Olympics in November.”