The Indian Women’s Hockey team entered their first Olympic semi-final after a gruelling 1-0 victory over Australia. The star defender, Gurjit Kaur, scored the crucial winning goal in the 22nd minute to put India ahead. It was a robust defensive performance after conceding 14 goals in the group stage. The Aussies had 14 shots on goal but couldn't get past the Indian goalkeeper Savita who had a magnificent performance with nine saves.
This has been the best performance by the Indian Women's Hockey team after the fourth-place finish at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Even though India had a shaky start to their campaign after suffering three straight losses to Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain, they redeemed themselves in the fourth and fifth game after defeating Ireland 1-0 and South Africa 4-3. The team made a stunning comeback when they qualified as the fourth team from their group.
Indian Hockey’s well-kept secret
The qualification for Tokyo was a historic moment for the Indian team as it was just their third Olympic qualification. The astronomical rise of the Indian women's team must be credited to all the hockey academies around the country who produced several young and talented players.
One such academy has been at the forefront of this growth. It’s situated in a small town near Kurukshetra, 200 km away from Delhi, called Shahabad Markanda. With a population of 42, 607, this town has produced several talented players who have represented India at the highest level.
The captain Rani Rampal, forwards Navneet Kaur and Navjot Kaur, midfielders Neha and Monika and defender Manpreet Kaur hail from the Shahabad Hockey Academy and are representing India at the 2020 Olympics. While also propelling the team towards the Olympics medal.
Who’s Coach Baldev Singh?
Dronacharya awardee, Coach Baldev Singh, started this academy in 1992 in the Guru Nanak Pritam Girl's Senior Secondary School. Back then, he was working for the Haryana Sports Department and was looking for a good hockey pitch. As the ground was in a girl's school, he wanted to include girls. He took the responsibility of convincing the authorities and villagers to allow girls to play. As Shahabad Markanda is in the heart of Haryana, where the status of women has been miserable for ages, it was a humongous task.
Coach Baldev Singh's fight paid off and was game-changing for Indian hockey. Under his mentorship, the Shahabad Hockey Academy has produced around 30 international players in the last 15 years.
Let's hope that academies all around the country continue their work and produce several world champions for the country.