India women’s hockey team returned to international competition in 2021, following the hiatus due to Covid-19 pandemic, with tours to Germany and Argentina. Though they could not win a game in both the tours, Indian women will be hoping to learn from the experience and put it to use at Tokyo.
Rani Rampal believes the experience will help them iron out the flaws: “Overall, these (Argentina and Germany) were good tours. I know everyone talks about results (but) we were playing after one year. During lockdown we could just work on fitness…So we first had to analyze (in a match situation) where we are fitness-wise, how much more we need to work on it, both practically and technically.”
Looking back at a pre-pandemic situation, she confesses: “I know a year back we were peaking well, we were hoping for a medal. That belief is still there because we built our mindset accordingly. It’s difficult for an athlete to push himself or herself for another year at the same level. But definitely we have the belief that we don’t want to just participate in the Olympics, rather we have to do something (big).”
Talking against their big rivals: “These are the teams – Argentina, Germany, Holland and so on – who when we play against, we come to know whether we are working on the right track or not and how much more we need to work. We have to step ahead of the top teams. Both these teams (Argentina and Germany) mostly play the semis of Olympics and World Cups. We don’t have the experience. So they know how to handle those moments (pressure).”
Rampal, however, believes that the gulf between the top European nations and the Indian women’s team has reduced in the recent past: “When we look at our team (ranked 9th), then there is not a very big difference between us and those (top) teams. Earlier the gap between us and the European nations seemed bigger; but now when we play them, the difference seems smaller.”
And, as she said back is 2019, talking about the Tokyo Olympics: “We are very excited. It’s a dream for every player to represent her country at the Olympics and it’s no different with this team. We need to ensure that we make the most of the camps we have and the matches we play and be in the best of our shape when we head to Tokyo in July.”