It was in 2004, when the Indian women’s hockey team had won the Asia Cup and it was yesterday when they did it again. The 13-year-long jinx was finally broken as the Indian team edged past China with a 5-4 shoot-out to win the Asia Cup title on Sunday.
Within two weeks, India has managed to clinch the Asia Cup twice – the men’s hockey title on October 22 and women’s hockey title in the same tournament on November 5. The latest conquest though, ought to taste sweeter. For the men’s team, they already ranked the best in Asia and proudly adorned 6th rank worldwide – so it was pretty much expected for them to cut the edge at Asia Cup. Especially when the finale was against much lower-ranked Malaysian team, which is globally ranked 12th. But the Indian women’s team was ranked as 13th worldwide and fourth in Asian ranking. Yet they defeated two of the three higher-ranked teams in China (8th) and Japan (11th) in an unbeaten, refreshing and authoritative run in Asia Cup 2017 tournament.
Attacking approach and a winner’s mind-set, were the two core demands from incumbent coach Harendra Singh; and that worked. Savita produced a brilliant save in the shootout as India became continental champions after a gap of 13 years. After the teams were locked 1-1 in regulation time, skipper Rani Rampal converted the final attempt for the Indians to ensure a 5-4 win at Kakamigahara Kawasaki Stadium in Japan. Navjot had given Indian the lead in the 25th minute while China equalised through a penalty corner conversion by Tiantian Luo in the 47th minute. Apart from her exploits in the shootout, Savita produced several saves in regulation time and was adjudged the Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
Oh and there’s an added incentive too, as the victory has an incentive too. Although India had already qualified for the World Cup, the win gave the team direct entry into next year’s big event, along with the bragging rights in the continent. So now, the women’s team can fly to London knowing they have done so on merit. This triumph has certainly brought the excitement back in women’s hockey. And, it doesn’t look like vanishing soon, at least with this bunch of players under the young and enthusiastic coach, Harendra.