The deep defence of the Indian women’s hockey team will be an area of concern for coach Janneke Schopman with the World Cup just a month away. The FIH Pro Leagues games against Belgium brutally exposed the vulnerabilities in the backline of the national women’s hockey team. And not helping matters is the steady dip in performance of fullback Deep Grace Ekka. The most experienced defender in the Indian women’s team hasn’t inspired much confidence in the Indian backline in the Pro League.
The second leg tie against Belgium once again brough to the fore her lack of match awareness despite being around on the international stage for more than a decade. One saw how the 28-year-old defender from Odisha resorted to a needless tackle against a Belgium player and not only ended up conceding a penalty corner from which the Red Panthers scored but was also green-carded. And the Red Panthers made India pay for that blemish with Stephanie Vanden Borre firing home off that shortie. Our observations are not based on a few games or one tournament – the consistent dip in performane is there for all to see – even at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics Deep Grace was found wanting as well – she was consistently guilty of committing amaterish defensive blunders but all that got buried under the brouhaha of the Indian eves finishing fourth at the Tokyo Olympics.
Ideally, the Indian women team would want Deep Grace to spearhead the Indian deep defence with aplomb but she appears to be sluggish with her movements – her tackling, trapping, and passing leave a lot to be desired. Of course, Deep Grace has been serving the Indian women’s hockey team with distinction over a decade or so since making her senior international debut during the 2011 Four Nation Tournament in Argentina.
A product of the SAI-SAG centre, the fullback, who hails from a small village called Lulkidhi in the Sundergarh district of Odisha, has played many key roles in the Indian women’s hockey team’s success over the year – Deep Grace has been part of the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy and 2017 Asia Cup gold-winning teams. The Railway-employed defender has been also part of the national women’s team that won silver and bronze medals at the 2018 and 2014 Asian Games respectively.
There is a general line of thought that the two-time Olympian really needs to up her game to justify her spot in the Indian women’s team and seems to be over the hill. And with a stream of youngsters snapping at her heels, she would need to shoulder more responsibility as the senior-most defender in the side. At 28, age is not also on her side. It remains to be seen whether coach Janneke Schopman would give Deep Grace a longe rope and hope she comes good. Or should the Indian defence look beyond Deep Grace? One thing is crystal clear – the Indian deep defence cannot afford to be sluggish because good sides are going to make us pay.