Indian hockey girls leave controversy behind, want gold at home

After one of their teammates complained about long-standing coach's misdemeanour, the entire team stood by her. But the complaints and counter-complaints shortly before last month's World Cup in Argentina rattled the players badly and they finished ninth.

However, assistant coach Sandeep Somesh, who was handed the reins after the exit of Maharaj Kishan Kaushik, has tried to play down the team's World Cup performance, saying they can take a lot of positives from the championship.

Indian women have fared better than the men since the sport became a Games discipline in 1998.

They won a gold in 2002 at Manchester, beating England 3-2, and four years later they returned with a silver from Melbourne, losing 0-1 to Australia. In the first edition, they lost to New Zealand in the bronze medal play-off.

India have been placed alongside defending champions Australia, South Africa, Scotland and Trinidad and Tobago in the 10-team tournament at Rosario.

"We have achieved good results in past and we hope to continue the trend at home. It is going to be tough though," Somesh told IANS.

"We will have the home advantage and hopefully we will be able to win a medal. Our first aim is to reach the semi-finals."

Somesh knows it would not be easy to motivate the girls after the mauling they got at the World Cup.

India lost 1-7 to the Netherlands, 3-6 to Australia and 1-4 to Germany before winning their first match against Japan (2-0) and again losing to New Zealand (3-0) to be placed fifth in the pool. They, however, would draw heart from their performance in the classification match where they beat South Africa (4-3).

"We conceded many soft goals and that is one area where we need to improve by tightening our defence. In the match against Australia, we conceded some easy goals towards the end," Somesh said.

"Though, I am not reading too much into our performance because we have never done well in World Cup. In fact, the ninth place is our best finish. Considering the state of mind in which the players were when they left for Rosario, the performance was not  unexpected. There are positives to be taken from the World Cup and we want to build on them. I expect the girls to put up a better fight at the Commonwealth Games."
One of the brighter aspects of the World Cup was Rani Rampal's strike rate. The 15-year-old was adjudged the best young player of the tournament as she finished second best scorer with seven goals, six of  which were field scores.

"It is remarkable to score so many field goals. We would want Rani to carry her form into the Commonwealth Games. I need to make use of her form by ensuring that she gets those chances to strike home."

Penalty-corner conversion is another area where the team needs to improve.
"We got 19 penalty corners at the World Cup and we converted only four. We do not have specialist drag flickers and we depend more on variations. We have to ensure that we get the variations right."

Have the girls been able to put behind the ugly controversy?
"It has been tough on the girls," Somesh says.

"They never realised that it (controversy) will blow up the way it did. It is not easy to get over it. But once they get into the pitch, they have to put everything aside and focus on the job. Good results will help them move forward."

"As a team they are pretty motivated to do well at the Commonwealth Games."
Captain Surinder Kaur won't speak about the controversy but she talked about the team's showing at the World Cup.

"We know that we have to win the gold medal. We made some silly mistakes in the World Cup  and we cannot afford to repeat them," says Kaur, who was part of the team that came second four years ago in Melbourne.

Squad:
Defenders: Binita Toppo, Subhadra Pradhan, Joydeep Kaur
Midfielders: Asunta Lakra, Kirandeep Kaur, Mukta Prava Barla, Deepika Thakur, Ritu Rani
Forwards: Surinder Kaur (captain), Saba Anjum, Rani Rampal, Jasjeet Kaur Handa, Thokcham Chanchan Devi, Poonam Rani Goalkeepers: Dipika Murty, Etimarpu Rajani.

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