Indian women’s hockey team undaunted ahead of Hawke’s Bay Cup

New Delhi, March 28 (IANS) Following confident and notable performances at the South Asian Games (SAG) and the South African tour, the Indian women’s hockey team launch their campaign in the Hawke’s Bay Cup in Hastings, New Zealand, on April 2.

There will be two things paramount on the minds on the team — fitness and converting short corners into goals. These are the two key areas that chief coach Neil Hawgood, his coaching staff and senior members of the squad have singled out for special attention during the recent preparatory camp.

If World No.13 India are to outplay No.4 New Zealand and No.5 China, they would need to sustain the intensity for the entire duration of the matches. Even No.15 Ireland are capable of springing a surprise. These four teams make Pool B of the Hawke’s Bay Cup while Australia, South Korea, Japan and Canada make Pool A of the April 2-10 tournament.

“In the past we have lost some crucial matches due to fitness and not being able to convert penalty corners. We have been paying extra attention to these two critical aspects. Chief coach Hawgood is obsessive about improving the fitness levels of those in the camp,” said Deepika, who will lead the team in the absence of Ritu Rani.

“In modern hockey, converting penalty corners makes a huge difference between winning and losing. We have to learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure they are not repeated.”

India depart for New Zealand on Monday.

Deepika received the Women’s Player of the Year award in the Hockey India (HI) Annual Awards in Bengaluru on Saturday.

“To get this recognition right before the Hawke’s Bay Cup is undoubtedly a big boost. I am overjoyed to be selected for the most coveted award in recognition of my efforts. I have always strived to give my best playing for India. This recognition will continue to spur me to do even better in the upcoming tournaments,” said Deepika.

The New Zealand outing will also give selectors a chance to see how some of the juniors, drafted in the camp, fare at the senior level, giving them more options when selecting the Olympic squad few months down the line.

“The Olympic squad has not been announced yet. Currently, the entire core group is training at the camp. So everyone is very keen to perform to brighten their chances for making the cut for the Olympics. This is good in the long-term because we would have more options when selecting the side for Rio,” said the captain.

The prospect of taking on higher ranked teams in the Hawke’s Bay Cup is not weighing down the 18-member team.

“It’s good we are playing these teams. It will not only give us, and especially the youngsters, critical exposure of playing against good sides, it will also prepare us mentally to take on even better sides at Olympics,” said Deepika.

“Also, improved fitness levels give us the confidence of playing against higher ranked sides. We have been telling ourselves that rankings only matter to a certain extent. The final result depends on how the team plays on that particular day. We are not at all daunted to play against any team.”

Though, doing well in New Zealand is the immediate target, the Indian women’s squad is well aware that history beckons them in Rio de Janeiro for which they have qualified after a long wait of 36 years.

“There is a huge amount of excitement among us regarding the Olympics. For Indian women’s hockey it’s a dream come true. People think it’s still some months away, but if you ask me, we believe that there is very little time left. Since we have made it to Olympics after such a long time, we want people to take note of Indian women’s hockey. It’s a huge opportunity for us,” said Deepika before signing off.

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