The Indian women's hockey team will begin their 2022 Commonwealth Games campaign on Friday. Janneke Schopman's side will hope to overcome the disappointment of finishing ninth at the World Cup earlier this month and bounce back with a medal. However, the Indian team has not won a medal in the last three editions of CWG.
India's group and format
India are grouped with England, Canada, Wales, and Ghana in Pool A. Their first match is against Ghana at University of Birmingham hockey stadium followed by matches against Wales (July 30), England (August 2) and Canada (August 2).
The top two teams from two groups (Pool A and Pool B) will qualify for the semi-finals while the rest have to play ninth, seventh and fifth place classification matches. The losing semi-finalists will face off in the bronze medal match.
Pool B contains Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Scotland and Kenya.
India's chances of making it to semifinals
Considering the players and the rankings, India should finish in the top two of their group and qualify for the semifinals. Only England (world no 5) are ranked higher than India (world no 9), but this team, led by goalkeeper Savita Punia, is capable of beating them too. However, a loss against England or for that matter against Wales, will make the qualification tricky for them ahead of their final match with Canada.
Despite their rankings (world no 15), Canada gave India a tough fight at the recent FIH World Cup 9-16 classification match, and the result was decided via shootout. In fact, India were trailing for most of the match and the game went to the shootout only when Salima Tete scored two minutes from the final hooter. Captain Punia then stepped up and put up a brave show to ensure India beat Canada 3-2. What went wrong at the World Cup?
India were aiming for their first medal at the FIH World Cup, but it ended up being an underwhelming campaign. They finished third in their Pool after two draws (against England and China) and a defeat (against New Zealand). They couldn't make it to the quarterfinals after losing the crossover match against Spain 1-0. India then finished their tournament with victories over Canada and Japan.
Under Schopman, India started playing a more attacking brand of hockey and it was in focus at the World Cup. But the team faltered when it came to converting their chances. They could only score only five goals from the 43 penalty corners (PC) they earned in the six matches at the World Cup. Gurjit Kaur's form became a concern and other dragflickers (mainly Deep Ekka Grace) failed to make an impact from penalty corners.
Schopman has identified the reasons why they failed in converting the penalty corners and how they can make improvements. "I think there are many reasons for that. We struggled with the field a little bit, with our injections. It's a different field than we typically train on and that's something we had to adjust to and I don't think we adapted that well," Schopman said.
"I do think that under pressure, like against New Zealand, we played two or three variations that we didn't execute well. And for me as a coach, that is very frustrating because I think we spend enough time in training doing it. At the same time in training, there's no pressure and then you see that with critical parts, like a penalty corner, that pressure can be of influence, whether it's a menial ball trapping versus 'I actually completely forgot what my role is in this penalty corner'.
"So in that respect, I think we talked about it and the girls themselves came with a lot of good solutions to improve whether it's focusing on your end or individual skill to train more deliberately with defenders. Saying, 'Look, I'm actually not comfortable doing this variation'. Or maybe it's better that Gurjit learns to say 'I need this trapper and I need this inserter because then I know that I perform better and I have more confidence that my flick goes on goal.' At the same time, it's all about taking responsibility. Grace did that in the Japan game in multiple ways and converting her penalty corner. So there's growth there as well," Schopman said.
India's performance in the previous editions of Commonwealth Games
Hockey has been a constant presence at CWG since the sport made its debut at the 1998 edition in Kuala Lumpur. Indian women's hockey team finished fourth in 1998 and then produced a remarkable run at the 2002 Manchester Games to clinch the gold medal.
They lost the final in 2006 against Australia and this was the last medal they won at the CWG. At last year's Games, India lost England 6-0 in the bronze medal match.
Goalkeepers: Savita and Rajani Etimarpu.
Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur, Nikki Pradhan, Udita.
Midfielders: Nisha, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Monika, Neha, Jyoti, Navjot Kaur and Salima Tete.
Forwards: Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur, Sangita Kumari and Sharmila Devi.