The Indian women's hockey team is all set to begin a crucial European tour from Saturday, which will serve as preparation for the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
The tour will see the team playing in Germany and participating in the Spanish Hockey Federation's international tournament in celebration of their 100th anniversary.
Here's ESPN's lowdown on all you need to know about the tour.
When and who are India playing?
India will play two games against Germany and one against China from July 16 to 19. Later, they will travel to Spain to play games against the hosts, South Africa and England from July 25 to 28.
July 16: India vs. China at 7.30 PM IST.
July 18: India vs. Germany at 2.30 PM IST.
July 19: India vs. Germany at 9 PM IST.
July 25: India vs. Spain at 9.30 PM IST.
July 27: India vs. South Africa at 4.30 PM IST.
July 28: India vs. England at 2.30 PM IST.
Why is the tour important?
As stated above, Janneke Schopman's team will use the matches to prepare for the all-important Asian Games, which starts in September and is a qualifier for the Paris Olympic Games.
The likes of Germany, Spain and England are all ranked above India in the world rankings. This is quality opposition and will give India a tough test playing away from home.
Then there's also China in the mix, who will be one of the teams to beat at the Asian Games. Even though it is just one match, India will want to make sure they do their homework. China have been playing in the recent season of FIH Pro League, where they consistently played against better teams and finished seventh.
Who are in India's squad?
India's core set of players have been the same, more or less, over the last few years with Savita Punia leading and Deep Grace Ekka as deputy. But there are a few notable changes this time around.
Indian Women's Hockey Team left from the Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru for three matches in the Germany tour and will then subsequently fly to Spain for the 100th Anniversary Spanish Hockey Federation - International Tournament in a bid to prepare themselves ahead... pic.twitter.com/eXpTF0YyGW
- Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) July 12, 2023
Rani Rampal is no longer part of the core group, but others like Salima Tete, Monika, Neha, Lalremsiami, Vandana Katariya and Sushila Chanu have been named in the squad.
In terms of new players, the ones to watch out for are Jyoti Chhatri (midfielder), Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke (midfielder) and Deepika (forward and penalty corner expert). All three players made it to the senior team after impressing at the Junior Asia Cup where the Indian team won the title for the first time.
Deepika and Grace have to take up the responsibility of converting penalty corners considering Gurjit Kaur is absent from the squad.
Kaur, who is India's No 1, when it comes to taking penalty corners, has been struggling with injuries but no official reason has been given for her absence. She has been inconsistent with her form, but there were visible improvements during India's previous matches in Australia.
Goalkeepers: Savita (C), Bichu Devi Kharibam.
Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka (VC), Nikki Pradhan, Ishika Chaudhary, Udita , Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam.
Midfielders: Nisha, Monika, Salima Tete, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Sonika, Baljeet Kaur, Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke, Jyoti Chhatri.
Forwards: Lalremsiami, Vandana Katariya, Sangita Kumari, Deepika.
What are some of the areas to focus on?
For a while now India hasn't been consistent in converting their penalty corner chances. As mentioned above, Gurjit's form has been wavering and India have struggled to find a quality second dragflicker in the team.
Schopman will hope that Deepika takes her chance and makes the most of it. She scored seven goals in the recent Junior Asia Cup campaign which pushed her to the senior squad. If Gurjit does make it to the Asiad squad and Deepika maintains her goal-scoring form, India will have the benefit of two good penalty corner experts.
Former India player Rupinder Pal Singh has been working with the dragflickers in the camp. Both coach Schopman and captain Savita have said that Rupinder's coaching has made a big difference in the penalty corner department. It's time to show the improvements on the field.
India's strength over the years have been their midfield players matching the speed and work rate of better-ranked oppositions and sometimes even dominating them. The likes of Neha, Salima Tete. Monika and Navneet Kaur are usually relentless in their running and pressing. This in turn results in creating chances and penalty corner opportunities. Before they start their Asian Games campaign, Schopman will hope that her core midfield players are at their best. The additions of Phalke and Chhatri will also ensure competition for places.
A consistent feature of this team is that they play eye-pleasing attacking hockey on the pitch but fail to produce positive results on a regular basis. Either they are not able to convert most of their chances or concede too many at the death.
In the upcoming matches, the wins don't matter much in terms of prestige or medals. Sure, these matches are being used as preparations for the Asian Games, but there's no denying that a run of positive results against these teams can do a world of good to the players' confidence. It's time to change the habit.