For the Indian women’s hockey team which was taking part in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, it was a case of so near and yet so far. The team had overcome early defeats in the Group stage to enter the quarterfinal rounds as the number four team from Group A. In the knockouts, India shocked the strong Australian side before losing to Argentina in the semifinal.
Hopes were high that Indian women would get the better of Great Britain for the bronze medal but that did not happen. The Indian women went down 3-4 to Great Britain. Indian fans were sorely disappointed that the team lost after showing some promise earlier.
To understand exactly what went wrong today, siasat.com spoke to Nidhi Mukesh, wife of the famed ex-international Mukesh Kumar. Hockey aficionados may remember her as Nidhi Khullar the livewire outside right forward of the Indian team who broke through rival defences with her dazzling speed and stickwork. She had played in two Asian Games (1994 and 1998) and has a silver medal to her name from the 1998 edition in Bangkok. She had also represented India in the women’s World Cup in 1996 and Commonwealth Games in 1998 as well as Test matches.
Having represented India in more than 170 matches, she made a perfect assessment of India’s loss when she said that it was due to a lack of coordination in the front line.
“Our team showed no cohesion. There was no combination between the forwards and the halves. Our overall defensive approach was completely unproductive,” she said.
“We should have gone in for a more aggressive and confident method of playing. Falling back repeatedly and willingly, left us open to the strong attacks by the rival team. When we defended, everyone fell back into the ‘D” where they (rivals) could force a penalty corner easily. We should have tackled them hard outside the semi circle and put their attacks into disarray,” she explained.
“But our goalkeeper Savita Punia put up a brave effort. In my opinion, she was the most outstanding player in the team. We were good at drag flicks too. Our drag flicker was very efficient. But apart from these two departments, we were not up to the mark today. Where was our centre forward ? Why so many mistakes and passing errors ?” Nidhi questioned.
“Moreover, when we attacked, our forwards were running too close together. What is the use of two players running close to each other ? One should keep some distance away so that the ball carrier can pass and thereby change the situation on the ground. And then we also saw them often being cornered and cut off. We did nothing right today,” Nidhi explained.
“Today we had a golden opportunity. I don’t know when we shall get another chance like this. The Olympic Games come once in four years and it is a difficult feat to qualify and then come up to this level where we can get a medal. A better approach would have done it for us but we messed it up. We made too many silly mistakes and at this level, no one can afford to do that. Now we must wait for several years to have another such opportunity. Let us see what the future holds for India,” she said.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.