Savita Punia, the captain of the Indian women’s hockey team, in an exclusive interview with Zee News spoke candidly about her journey as a hockey player, the changes in her life after marriage, and the controversial penalty shootout in the Commonwealth Games 2022 semifinals. Punia, who hails from Haryana, has been a prominent member of the Indian women’s hockey team for over a decade. She has represented the country in numerous international tournaments, including the Olympics and the World Cup. In the interview, she shared how her passion for hockey started, her struggles to balance her studies and sports, and her journey to becoming the captain of the Indian team.
Apart from her journey as a hockey player, Punia also spoke about her personal life and the changes that have come with marriage. She shared how her husband, a former hockey player himself, has been a pillar of support for her and how they manage their busy schedules. The conversation also touched upon the controversial penalty shootout in the Commonwealth Games 2022 semifinals, where India lost to Australia. Punia opened up about the emotional roller coaster of the game, the challenges of the penalty shootout, and the team’s disappointment at missing out on the gold medal. Overall, Punia’s interview with Zee News offers an insightful look into the life of a top-tier women’s hockey player and the ups and downs of competing at the highest level.
How has marriage changed your life?
I think I am very lucky that my life has not changed at all after marriage, it is going exactly as it was before the wedding. My in-laws are supporting me just as much as my parents are. I feel that now I have blessings from more people which is helping me improve my game and giving me more energy.
What inspired you to start playing hockey, and how did you get your start in the sport?
I started playing Hockey way back in 2003. When I started playing the game I had no knowledge about the game and I did not even know that I will end up playing the game for life. When I was in school there were three options after passing the physical test, one was hockey and the other two were Judo and Badminton. My grandfather said that if you play Hockey then I will be proud of you. When I got into the school Hockey team I worked really hard. If my coach was asking me to do 10 rounds I did 10 rounds. As I was tall my coach asked my dad to make me a goalkeeper and said that if she plays with dedication then she will definitely play for India. But to be a goalkeeper you need a kit. At that time the cost of a kit was 18 thousand rupees and my father’s salary was 11 thousand but still, he did not hesitate to buy me the kit at that moment I had tears in my eyes and I never looked back.
You’ve had a long and successful career representing India in international competitions. What have been some of the highlights for you so far?
In the last four to five years we have done pretty well as a team. But for me, the first one would be to be named in the Indian camp. From 2008 to 2013 I did not in the team, but in 2013 I got my chance. After that, in 2013 I won the best goalkeeper award in the Asia Cup. Then in 2016 when we qualified for the Olympics it was again a dream come true moment for us but I believe that our mindset was not right. We were happy after qualifying, that was our goal. And thus we could not perform in that event. However, in Tokyo, we bettered our record and that was the best moment ever.
You took over the captaincy from Rani Rampal when she was injured and now you are the regular captain of the side. How did the transition take place?
A senior player in the team is always the captain of the side. You do not need a captain’s tag to lead the side. We form a leadership group and everyone is invited to give their suggestions. We even include young players in the group so that they will also gain confidence and their in-game will improve. Of course, captaincy is an extra responsibility on the player’s shoulder. But I was prepared for that As I was the vice-captain of the side when Rani Rampal was the captain. We used to work on problems together. A good captain is one who does not let her game affect her due to the pressure of captaincy. In Hockey, we play with a lot of unity, maybe this does not happen in other games like cricket.
What was your first reaction after the shootout controversy in the Common Wealthgames 2022 semi-final defeat to Australia?
Ahhhh…, It still hurt. I was hurt, really hurt. I was shocked and disappointed that what just happened. The player that came for the hit is a great striker and My confidence went up when I did the save. There were two sides to the event. One we made the save which gave us confidence, second they missed the hit which means they will be underconfident, but. Everything changed as the umpire said the clock had not started. But what we learned from that situation is that we should not have let that affect our mindset. If we would have kept the momentum going then could have won the game. We should not let ourselves down by something that is not in our control. We had never heard something like that ‘Clock Did Not Start’. Thus we lost our clam. Our attackers also got distracted.