New Delhi:The Indian women's hockey team has left for the Olympic qualifiers in Kazan, high on morale but low on hopes. They haven't had any international exposure leading up to the event, and it isn't hard to imagine why.
There's an almost frantic feel to the way the women's hockey team is preparing for the Beijing qualifiers in Kazan. After an intense three-week training camp in Lucknow, the ladies arrived in New Delhi for a day en route to Russia, and decided to put in one more training session. The pressure is mounting after the men failed to make it to the Games for the first time in 80 years.
MK Kaushik, the team's coach says expectations are too high after the men's failure.
" Now there is a lot of media attention on the women's team," Kaushik said. "But I would say that the expectations are higher than what our team is capable of. We've asked them to stay focused."
There's an outside chance the team could qualify but the reality is these women have no idea how they rate against serious international competition.
The federation did not deem it necessary to include any international tournaments as part of the Beijing preparations and hence the Olympic dream is in serious danger.
Mamta Kharab, the team's captain, says they practiced with the boys team in Lucknow.
"Ideally we would've liked more preparatory matches before the qualifiers," Kharab said. "But we played practice games against the boys in Lucknow, and Charlesworth analysed those games for us. He said, if we've managed putting up such a fight against them, then that's a good sign."
Obviously, a few scattered matches against men's teams is hardly the blueprint you'd have in mind for Olympic qualification. The team though is riding on public support, and no, they're not missing the services of Shah Rukh Khan to come and pep them up.
Suman Bala, the team's vice captain, says the country is behind them.
"No, no, we don't need any encouragement from him (Shah Rukh). The entire country is behind us and that's good enough. These people are meant for cricket and they can stay there."
The mood is upbeat. But the fact remains that playing in conditions that they're not familiar with, and trying to qualify for the Olympics for just the second time, remains an uphill task. That's something that the coach and the players accept.