Herculean task ahead of Indian women hockey team
Melbourne, Mar 22: Defending champion India faces a Herculean task as they take on formidable New Zealand in the semifinals of the Women hockey competition of the Commonwealth Games here tomorrow.
The Kiwis topped pool B defeating another title contender England who will now cross swords with Australia in the other semifinal.
India started their title defence on a tentative note as they lost to Australia and then split points with South Africa but after that they managed to regroup themselves and won their next two matches.
New Zealand is a very fast and agile side and the Indians will do well to slow down the pace of the game. The Kiwis are used to hit-and-run tactics and they have the stamina and energy to run around the turf for the entire 70 minutes which is clearly not the case with India.
The defending champions, besides attacking, will have to defend their citadel as well because the Kiwis are know for lightning tearaway counters. New Zealand defence looks solid and their penalty corner conversion rate is also quite high.
But the same can not be said about the Indians. They forced 15 penalty corners against Malaysia in their last league match but could convert only five. Tomorrow it is going to be a different ball game against a much stronger squad.
The Indians can't afford to miss chances the way they did in their league matches. There will be no second time in the semifinals and the defending champions will have to have their plan cut out for all sorts of situations.
Indian goalkeeper Helen Mary has given good account of herself while defenders Kanti Baa and Rajwinder Kaur have played well in patches. The forwards, especially Mamta Kharab, has to lead the charge and keep the opposition under pressure. Saba Anjum, Jyoti Kullu and Surinder Kaur need to be more focus and deliver the goods.
The most important thing for the Indians is to convert most of the penalty corners. Their forwards may find it hard to get the field goals so they will go for getting the penalty corners.
A big responsibility is on Subhadra Pradhan, Asunita Lakra and Sumrai Tete to keep the halfline functioning like a well-oiled machine and keep distributing balls to the forwards.
''It is a big match and I am very hopeful that the girls will rise to the occasion. There will be no second chance and the players should understand that,'' said coach M K Kaushik.
Uncowered by the opposition's stature,the coach said, ''I don't think that New Zealand is unbeatable, but all will depend on how the girls play tomorrow and I have told the players that they have to score off the penalty corners.'' ''We have reached the semifinals and just a step away from the final and this itself should motivate the players to give their best,'' he added.
Though Kaushik sounded upbeat, the ground reality is that the Kiwis are in sublime form and they have a formidable forward line.
Their skipper Suzanne Muirhead is a very experienced player having played 222 internationals so far. Another forward Diana Elizabeth Weavers is also a veteran of 164 matches.
The Kiwis are much experienced, compared to the Indians and the defending champions will have to produce something extraordinary to upset all the calculations.
The Indian girls did it against all odds in Manchester 2002 and whether they can repeat that performance in Melbourne 2006 remains to be seen.