The smile on captain Sushila Chanu’s face reflected the unexpected and unprecedented success the women’s hockey team had achieved by bagging the bronze medal in the under-21 junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, Germany.
What it was not indicative of was the toil and the hard work that went into the success. Sushila’s smile, representative of the collective joy of her teammates, did not speak of how hard-earned the consistency — which chief coach Neil Hawgood had been striving for — was that was rewarded with the medal.
It did not speak about the gruelling scientific training the players were put through by scientific advisor Matthew Tredrea in the last four months either.
“In the end, we were consistent in all the six games,” said Hawgood.
“Even though we lost 6-1 to Australia, we equalled them on (number of) chances. We were quite happy with that.
“In fact, it was better than some of the games we won. In the whole tournament, we got better and better.”
After the team was accorded a warm welcome on its arrival here on Tuesday, assistant coach N.S. Saini elaborated on the opening engagement against Australia.
“It was a 50-50 match. In terms of ball possession and circle penetration, we matched the Australians,” he said. “The only advantage they had was that they had a penalty corner expert.”
Hawgood admitted that a majority of the players had benefitted from the experience of playing for the senior side.
“It helped that they could play at a faster tempo and at a faster pace when they came to the junior team,” the coach said.
Tredrea, who had looked after fitness training and recovery, threw light on how the team had gained through scientific training.
“In the last two-and-a-half weeks (before the event), we focused on active recovery, and tried to gain full energy. In order to play faster, the fitness needed to be a lot better,” he said.
Tredrea said the players had gained from their previous experience of playing on the faster pitches in Europe.
“They understood that the pitches were different, and adjusted quickly,” he said.
Vandana Katariya, who scored five goals to share third place on the goal-scorers’ list, acknowledged the role of scientific training in the team’s success.
“As a midfielder, I had to go up to help the forwards and fall back to support the defenders.
“Because of the training, I felt a lot relaxed and energised,” she said.
Sushila concurred. “We have improved a lot in running and on fitness,” she said.
Striker Rani Rampal, who was chosen Player-of-the-tournament, said her experience of playing on the biggest of stages had paid off.
“Some of us were quite experienced, and it gave us a lot of confidence,” she said.
The 17-year-old Navneet Kaur, who scored the winning goal for India in the shootouts, spoke of her determination.
“I did not feel nervous. My sole aim was to beat the goalkeeper,” she said.
Amidst all the fanfare, Hawgood had a word for the future.
“The lesson learnt from this tournament is the need for patience.
“The (senior) Dutch team’s average age is 25, and we have an average age of 19 or 20.
“You have to play for three or four years before you get consistent.”