The Indian women played a three match test series against the Hockeyroos at the State Netball & Hockey Centre, in Melbourne. Nicknamed the Golden Girls of Hockey, midfielder Vandana Katariya led the team with defender Sunita Lakra being her deputy.
This series was particularly important as India is currently ranked 12th in the FIH World Rankings whereas Australia is eight places above them at number 4. India was fresh from their recent Asian Champions Trophy triumph in Singapore and would look for more consistency. Playing against the best in the world gives you the requisite competitive exposure and helps build the right approach towards the game. In particular, India tried out five junior players including 15-year-old defender Salima Tete, Karishma Yadav and Sonika in the process to build a team for the next Olympics. Australia’s Neil Hawgood is coaching the team and this was his final assignment with them. He would be impressed with the performances down under, but his successor knows there is still a daunting task at hand if India has to perform consistently at the top level to even think of breaking into the top ten positions.
“After the Olympics, the team is playing with a fresh perspective and attitude towards the game. The recent win in Singapore goes to show that the team is eager to do well against best of the teams in the world and would continue doing well against Australia on their home turf. This will give us a lot of confidence going forward in the new Olympic cycle,” skipper Vandana Katariya expressing her thoughts before the Australia tour.
The Indian women’s hockey team might have lost the three-match series 2-1, but their performances are encouraging. Let’s break down each match and look at some positives and areas of improvements.
Deepika – the Player of the Tournament
Although India lost the series after conceding a 3-1 defeat in their third Test match against Australia on Sunday, they still had some honours to share. Deepika awarded the Player of the Tournament is a testimony to the fact that there were some solid performances and some tough on-field competition given to the mighty Aussies.
Leading but only half way through!
It was not at all a timid show where the girls succumbed to their opponents. In fact in two out of three of the matches, India led at halftime by a solitary goal. However, this was not enough as Australia being more experienced handled the situation with more maturity. It also summed up the series where India was leading in the first match only for Australia to hit back hard in the remaining two fixtures.
Rani – The on-field queen!
Ace Indian forward Rani flaunting the tri-color after the ACT 2016 victory.
Rani set the proceedings in India’s favour in the very first match by scoring a low drag flick which beat the keeper five minutes into the second quarter. After all, this was a classic case of David vs. Goliath. Check Rani’s wonder goal here:
Let’s dig deep into each of the three matches for a rewind on some of the memorable moments and performances.
The series opener – 1st match
India defeated Australia for the very first time, a day that would go down in the annals and be etched forever in the hearts of all hockey fans. India won the first match 1-0 courtesy a goal by Rani Rampal.
“It was a really satisfying first half; I think we played well. It feels good to do well against higher ranked teams,” – said Rani at the halftime break.
India maintained a continuous attacking approach throughout the match. Vandana Kataria and Sonika also came very close to scoring, only for the former to miss her chance from the left and the Aussie goalkeeper Ashlee Wells defending well. This sustained aggression meant that Australia had to play second fiddle in their bid to equalise.
Fixtures of Indian eve’s tour down under.
Although Australia dominated the next two-quarters, India stood firm thwarting every attack thrown at them. Moreover, goalkeeper Savita Punia made a string of excellent saves to deny Hockeyroos from scoring in three PCs in the last 32 seconds. Overall, the whole team showed tremendous composure and resilience to set the right tone for the rest of the tournament.
To withstand a strong Australian comeback in the 2nd match
Battle of the sticks, as India try to break down an Aussie attack!
When Australia are down, they hit back even harder! They did make a strong comeback and a statement of sorts in the second game, by drubbing India 4-1.
Deep Grace Ekka was guilty of putting a lot of misplaced long balls from the deep defence, and that meant an easy loss of possession. Rani urged the players to press, showing her on-field leadership skills despite not being the captain! However, it was too late as the Australians capitalised on the inexperience of the Indian line-up. Nevertheless, it was heartening to see the players match their Aussie counterparts regarding fitness and stamina levels.
The series clincher – The all-important third and final match
With both India and Australia sharing a victory each, the last game was a series decider!
India dominated the start of the proceedings and was, in fact, the better team in the first two quarters of the match. India put the first goal on the board in the 17th minute by captain Vandana Katariya. The skipper led from the front, and the whole team functioned as a cohesive unit. They were equally resolute in their defensive duties by not letting a single Australian player pass to maintain their lead until half time.
However, after the second half began, Australia showed the wealth of experience at their disposal as they came back strongly to usurp the Indian defence by knocking down two quick goals in the third quarter to shift the momentum in the favour. Brooke Peris and Gabi Nance were on target as the Indians conceded their solitary goal lead to hand Australia the advantage.
In the dying minutes, Jordyn Holzberger scored the third goal of the game as India could not sustain the barrage of attacks in the second half.
Moreover, the Indian men’s team would have gained enough confidence to replicate the on-field valour shown by their female counterparts in the two-game test series against the Kookaburras to conclude their leg down under and cap off the year on a high! They drew the two-match series where both games ran despite the fact that India is ranked sixth and Australia is no 1 in the FIH rankings.
What brought this turnaround?
The win in the first Test 1-0 was their first one ever over Australia. It is important, as it was against a higher ranked opponent and one that had thrashed them 6-1 in the Rio Olympics. Although they lost the second 4-1 and then the final and series decider, overall the intent was right there from the word go.
The buildup going up to this tournament was excellent as India looked more confident after the recent success at the 4th Women’s Asian Champions Trophy where they beat China in the final. They were upbeat about their chances and for some players it was an excellent opportunity to make amends for a frustrating outing again Down Under earlier this year before the Olympics.
The Asian Champions Trophy triumph
The Indian Eves received a hero’s welcome as they returned home on 6 November after claiming gold at the 4th Women’s #ACT2016. #IndiaKaGame
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) November 10, 2016
Such a warm reception would have etched a mark in the hearts of the players.
— Rani Rampal (@imranirampal) November 7, 2016
While 2016 was an eventful year for the Indian eves, earning their first Olympics call-up after 36 years and also winning the ACT Trophy. They ended the year well with the Australian test series, and it looks like 2017 would be the year where this team can conquer newer heights.
As I pen down the final few lines of this article, I am reminded of the famous song from the sports movie Chak De –
“Ab toh .. Badal parr paun hai … Chal padi apni ye naav hai!”
(They are on cloud 9, and the boat has set sail!)
Watch the Indian tigress prowl and hunt their opponents in 2017 and this space for more on Indian Hockey.