Odisha is the traditional source of Indian hockey, and it's not just limited for the men hockey players. Since ages, the state has been a nursery for the women's national team, but not ever have the locals had the opportunity to cheer for women in large numbers.
The Olympic qualifying event against USA begins on Friday and it offers them the long-unsettled opportunity. In front of 15,000 expected crowd in Kalinga Stadium, it's going to be a home experience for the Indian women's team like never before.
India women’s hockey team is not playing Olympic qualifiers at home for the first time, yet it is different on many points when compared to 2012 Olympic qualifiers held in Delhi. The reasons are (1) since qualification for 2016 Rio Olympics, the focus on women's hockey has grown much, (2) the women team has improved much in the last four years, (3) this is the first time they will play in a jam-packed stadium and (4) the team needs to prove that the 4-29 win-loss record against USA doesn't echo India's growing figure in women's hockey precisely.
But the task is not easy, even if India brag eight players with 150+ international caps compared to only one for the Americans (captain Kathleen Sharkey). Amongst the 4 Indian players with an experience of 200+ internationals is Odisha woman Deep Grace Ekka (200 matches). Captain Rani Rampal leads this list with 239 caps, Vandana Katariya 238 caps and goalkeeper Savita 200 caps.
Even the USA team hasn’t played in front of this amount of huge crowd, yet the pressure will be more on Indian team.
India's vice-captain, Savita, said, "Everybody talks about home crowd, but it's more pressure on the home team." "When we came to know we will be playing at home against USA, we talked as much about the crowd as about our game-plan, because there are many young players in the team who would not know about such an atmosphere," she added.
The youngsters of the team is teenagers Sharmila Devi with 7 caps, Lalremsiami with 62 caps and Salima Tete 27 caps.
India failed to make it to the London Olympics seven years ago in Delhi after losing the qualifiers to South Africa at the final match. But the current team is led by Rani Rampal and she has succeeded in earning respect from opponents.
"If your objectives are in place and you know what you have to do, then you don't think about crowd pressure and don't let yourself get overwhelmed by it or by thoughts of the end result," Savita said more.
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