Till three years ago, a full-blooded shot by a player looked like travelling in slow-motion. They could barely run for the entire duration of the match, and apart from Rani Rampal and Ritu Rani, not many people had the confidence to dribble past an opponent, even though they possessed the skill. That has changed rather rapidly. And this was the most impressive factor against England. The hosts, ranked number 2 in the world, have one of the fittest sides in women’s hockey. In fact, one of the key reasons they won the gold in Rio — playing as Britain — was because they could run more than most teams. On Saturday, India showed they were prepared to grit it out, chasing down every loose ball and embarking on long, solo whenever they got a chance. Rampal even said in a pitch-side interview at half-time that one of the main reasons they had the lead was because they worked harder than England. They managed the same level of commitment for the whole match, but going ultra-defensive was their biggest shortcoming.
Savita, the saviour
England coach Danny Kerry accused India of adopting ‘negative’ tactics. But his counterpart, Sjoerd Marijne, knew the only way he could get something out of a difficult match was by playing smart, practical hockey. India were always going to make life difficult for England forwards by closing down spaces and defending deep, in numbers. To Marijne’s delight, they maintained the structure for pretty much entire duration of the match, choked England’s supply-line from the right and forced them to operate from the less-favoured left flank in the second half. When the midfield was beaten, the back-line took the responsibility of keeping England away from the circle. When the England forwards made their way past the defenders, they couldn’t beat Savita Punia. She was the sole reason India did not lose as the team, despite defending well for most parts, conceded too many corners.
Pace with ball
Defending deep for long periods meant India relied heavily on counters and though they could manage a few attacks, their pace never really bothered England. Consequently, India relied heavily on their ability to beat the opponent in a 1vs1 scenario to get inside the ‘D’. India were too slow in turnovers, looking down with the ball, which meant they couldn’t spot a teammate who was unmarked or initiating a run. The slow gameplay allowed England to fall back and defend easily.