No wins, few goals, but here's how the Indian hockey women can turn it around

Ugra: It's been heartbreaking to watch the women's hockey team (2:58)

Senior sports journalist Sharda Ugra on the disappointing showing from the women's team so far (2:58)

Three games. Three defeats. Two goals scored and 11 conceded.

The figures don't make for great reading if you are the Indian women's team, or a fan of the team, at the Tokyo Olympics. However, the good news is that our pre-tournament prediction of a knockout stage advancement still remains possible in theory. Wins in their last two matches against Ireland and South Africa ought to be enough. Even a win and a draw could suffice, provided other results go their way.

However, what have they been doing wrong? And what are the strengths they could work on further?

Good in patches

For a little over a half, India slugged it out as equals with the Netherlands. Against Germany, they were dominant for a period around the midway stage, when they earned a penalty stroke, which Gurjit Kaur failed to convert to equalise.

On Wednesday, against champions Great Britain, India turned the screws on during the second and third quarter. Offensive overloads started coming through, despite having conceded as early as the second minute. Rani Rampal and Vandana Katariya worked through the middle of the pitch, and the pace of Sharmila Devi kept the British defenders on their toes, as India created more openings during this period. Sharmila found a goal to pull the score back to 2-1, and when Great Britain had striker Lily Owsley sent to the sin bin for five minutes, India pushed on to look for the equaliser.

It took an odd bit of officiating -- with the umpire flashing a yellow card to Salima Tete for a foul that was far more mild than what Great Britain captain Hollie Pearne-Webb had pulled off on her Indian counterpart Rani and gotten away with -- to tilt the scales in the champions' favour.

India need that intensity to last for longer periods, not just in patches. Their start to the Netherlands game, minus a soft goal conceded early, was just about perfect. They held their shape well, and countered with pace and intelligence when given the slightest room. They need more of that for four quarters against Ireland.

Lack of discipline

Salima wasn't the only Indian player to see a yellow. There were a few too many clumsy challenges all over.

The experienced Navjot Kaur let her team down in a big way early in the fourth quarter, with India looking to chase down two goals to snatch a point. Salima's suspension had barely ended, when Navjot side-barged an opponent and was off for the next five minutes herself. Deep Grace Ekka and Gurjit Kaur too had a couple of awful challenges inside the Indian 25-yard line.

There's a lesson in what they would have observed of the Dutch, German and British defenders and their methods -- stay beside or ahead of the attacker and only look to play the ball when you know the percentages are in your favour. Otherwise, it is best to just keep drawing them away from your goal.

Decision-making in attack

Sharmila and Lalremsiami are two gifted attackers, both blessed with speed, strength and natural technical ability. However, at times they appear over-eager to go for glory inside the opposition circle.

A little before her goal against Great Britain, Sharmila was fed a sublime ball from Rani down the left channel. She had a defender ahead of her, and backing her own pace, the Indian teenager pressed on and entered the circle. However, the prudent decision then would have been to look for the penalty corner (PC) by finding her marker's feet. Instead, she tried to pull the ball wide and shoot, and ended up hitting way wide of the target.

"This was our worst match. We always try to play for a six (out of 10) for each individual, and I don't think each individual today played for a six. Bad decisions, bad choices and I'm pretty disappointed by this," Dutch coach Sjoerd Marijne told PTI after the loss to Great Britain.

"The goal was too early, but the individual performances just weren't good enough. I can keep analysing what went wrong tactically, but it starts with every individual reaching their level and that didn't happen today."

India need to maximise their circle penetrations. Go for shots only when the odds are in your favour. Otherwise, try and win PCs, as Navneet Kaur showed the first time she had meaningful possession. And the result was India's goal.

Savita's level

Goalkeeper Savita Punia, one of India's mainstays, has to raise her game. She's made some saves, but also conceded some soft goals in every game. Against Netherlands, she was beaten on her near post late in the game, while against Germany she was partly to blame for both goals, failing to reach a drag-flick low to her left, and then appearing to misjudge the angle of a slap played across from her left.

On Wednesday, Hannah Martin's second goal went off her left heel into goal, a sign that she wasn't able to sort her footwork when the attacker was winding up for a shot. That she still pulled off some great saves in the second half is a testament to how good she is.

She can do better. As can India. Time is running out, though. India must put together the perfect, error-free performance against Ireland on Friday.