In last year's Women's Hockey World Cup, India and USA played out a 1-1 draw. The stakes are going to be much higher when the two teams clash at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on November 1 and 2.
These two matches are the qualifiers for 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Both sides have seen ups and downs in the last year. The lady at the helm of the Indian team, Rani, discussed the upcoming American challenge in an exclusive interview with International Business Times, India.
She also talks about the improvements in the Indian team as well as the plans for future. We also asked her about an interesting experience of modelling that she had while doing a photoshoot for a magazine.
Here is the full interview:
What was your first reaction when you heard that your team would be facing USA in the Olympic qualifiers?
Rani: We didn't react in a very big way as we were aware that our opponent would be one of the four teams in the draw. We thought, whichever team we have to play, our preparations have to be good and conducted in the best possible manner.
How do you assess the American team? They haven't been in good form of late.
Rani: You see, we cannot judge any team like this. If their performance in the last tournament wasn't good, it doesn't mean that even in the next tournament, they would perform the same way. Many teams struggle sometimes, but after that, they work on their game to improve it. The same is the case with us.
But we know that we faced them last time in the World Cup and played a 1-1 draw. Since then, our team has seen a lot of improvement. And of course, USA must have also improved in some ways, through the training they surely would have done.
Also, our team is very confident. We are playing on our home ground, that would be a great advantage too. Lastly, our preparation is going very well for the qualifiers. We have worked on all those things we need to.
The forward line of your team is looking very strong presently with players like you in it. Is that your team's biggest strength?
Rani: Our team has many strengths. For example, our attack and defence in regards to penalty corners is very good. Last year, our defending was very good but this year, we have struck a balance by both attacking and defending well.
The players in all the lines – be they strikers, midfielders or defenders – are doing very well in their own positions. So, our main focus is, the more we, as a team, use the quality of every player, the more our performance will improve.
Which areas do you think still require improvement?
Rani: Well, there are so many areas where improvements have to be constantly made. That's because there is no end to improving. But there are certain parts of the game where, especially, we can improve greatly.
Our decision making can be much quicker and our communication can be a bit better. The more we communicate with each other, the better we can guide other players.
Next year, the men's team would participate in the FIH Pro League. Your coach told me some time ago that he doesn't think India has the depth to participate in the women's Pro League. What is your opinion?
Rani: It (FIH Pro League) provides a good exposure to all the teams taking part as they get to play the top sides in the world. But yes, next year is an Olympic year and Pro League involves a lot of travelling and games. So, by the time the tournament finishes, it may create problems as the players for the Olympics would be tired and some may be injured.
So, yes, it is difficult, no doubt. After next year, we can take part in that tournament. But it's good that in the Olympic year, we are not taking part as that would give us time to prepare for Olympics.
You played in a tournament in Tokyo recently, on the same turf and in the same stadium where Olympics matches would be played. Did you like the facilities and the turf?
Rani: The Olympic pitch has been made very well. It was quite a fast pitch. The atmosphere is very good when you are one of the first teams on a pitch, playing where, in the Olympics, is the dream of every player.
You get that motivation by playing there as you think "I have to come here next year! So, we should fight every second so that we do come here next year to play in the Olympics."
Facilities are also good because Japan is a very organised country and they are still doing more for the Olympics.
Lastly, some weeks ago, you had a photo-shoot for a magazine. How was that experience, for a sportsperson to do modelling?
Rani: It was a good experience. I had never been in a photo-shoot for a magazine before. I was a bit uncomfortable at the start because we are not used to these things. Sports life is very difficult while here, you are shooting for a magazine cover. But those who did that photo-shoot made sure that I was comfortable. After that, it was a very good experience. You get to know that beyond hockey also, you can do something.
The Olympic qualifiers that are coming up, would you like that more and more people should come to the ground and provide good support to you?
Rani: Since the matches are being played in Bhubaneswar, there is no doubt that people would come. People there, they love hockey and they love sports. No matter what happens, rain or anything, they will come to watch the match and they will cheer our side. Our team is very happy that the tournament is taking place in Bhubaneswar because the crowd is so crazy for the sport.