Gurjit Kaur, the main short-corner specialist in the Indian women’s hockey team, was distraught after her unimpressive show in the Group stage of the Olympic Games women’s hockey tournament. The 25-year-old was unsuccessful with all her drag-flicks in the qualification stage of the competition, adding to the worries of her team and coach Sjoerd Marjijne.
Gurjit was putting in a lot of power in her flicks, but something was not right, as her shots were getting blocked by the goalkeeper or the defenders. The biggest disappointment came when Indian wasted 14 short corners against Ireland in the Group stage.
So, when she stepped up to take the flick against world No. 2 Australia in the quarterfinal, not many give her a chance. But this time she was on target, scoring the all-important goal to guide India to a historic victory and an unprecedented semifinal spot.
In the next game against Argentina, she again scored off a penalty corner and then slammed two against Germany for a total of four goals in the campaign.
Gurjit’s poor conversion rate before the knockout stage in the Olympics had become a talking point, as despite generating pace and power in her shots — and being touted as the best drag-flicker in women’s hockey — she was missing the target. Usually, a conversion rate of between 15-20 per cent is optimum but she was nowhere close to that.
But the game against Australia seemed to have worked wonders for the India team defender. Overnight she became a feared drag-flicker.
For Gurjit, the Olympics have been a story of two halves — in the qualification she couldn’t get anything right but in the knockouts she couldn’t put a foot wrong.
In the Group stage, India earned 32 penalty corners in five matches but converted only one, that too off a rebound. Besides Gurjit, Deep Grace Ekka and Rani Rampal too tried their luck.
In the knockout stages, India earned 12 short corners in three matches and Gurjit scored four goals.
Asked about the secret to Gurjit’s turnaround, coach Marijne said that he did not give her any special instructions but told her the variations she needed to concentrate on.
A case in point was the bronze-medal match against Great Britain in which India missed the first penalty corner. Before the next penalty corner, a cryptic message went from the bench to Gurjit, and she planted a powerful flick in between goalkeeper Maddy Hinch and a defender. In the next attempt, she sent a low flick to the left corner.
“Gurjit did not make any major changes in her approach in the knockout stages. It was just that she chose her spots well,” said Marijne.
The Dutch tactician added that, it’s not that Gurjit was drag-flicking badly in the Group stage. “It’s about the choices that we (team) also make. Like in the (Group) match against South Africa, we made the choice to give Grace Ekka the chance. The other thing you have to realise is that when you are drag-flicking from the top of the ‘D’, and if the (rival) runner is very good, it is very difficult to score. So, it is not always the drag-flicker (fault) whether she can score or not,” said Marijne.
He said Gurjit had done very well in the knockout. “She did really well. She helped us win the quarterfinal and today she scored two very important goals with her drag-flick, and these moments were really helping the team,” he added.
The experience Gurjit has gained in Tokyo will help her do better in the future.