The Malaysian women's team at Bukit jalil after arriving by bus from Singapore.
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian women's coach K. Dharmaraj took a big gamble by fielding young players in the recent Hockey Series Open at the Seng Kang Stadium, but returned home yesterday smelling like roses.
Very few coaches in the world would gamble with a 14-year-old; and two 17-year-olds, and Dharmaraj is among this elite few.
Malaysia not only won gold, but also went on a scoring spree in all six matches, including the 6-0 hammering of Thailand where the youngest player in the squad Kirandeep Kaur scored her first goal of the tournament.
"A day before the final I told Kirandeep that even though she has yet to find her touch after five matches, she should not be too stressed out and just be her normal self and she delivered," said Dharmaraj who led his team to silver in the World League Round Two in Kuala Lumpur last year.
Admitting that this tournament did not challenge his players, Dharmaraj said it was still a morale booster ahead of the Asian Games in Jakarta.
"We scored 51 goals in six matches, but missed just as many. This is what we need to improve upon as in the Asian Games we will be playing against higher ranked teams and will not get as many chances in a match.
"However, its a good boost even though my defence was never placed under pressure, we got to test our attack and penalty corners.
"We will rest for a week, after which its back to training and then head to Queensland (Australia) at the end of the month to play some friendlies there," said Dharmaraj.
Former international Maninderjit Singh, who played in Malaysia's last Olympic appearance in Sydney 2000, said it's difficult to progress by playing weaker sides most of the times.
"The women's team has shown regional progress and did realise their No 1 ranking in Singapore by winning gold.
"But I know for a fact that it will be very difficult for them in the Asian Games because their opponents are right now playing in Europe against tougher sides while we are travelling on a weaker path.
"India, China and Japan women played or are playing in Europe right now, and they will be better prepared for the Asian Games where MHC (Malaysian Hockey Confederation) are hoping for a semi-finals appearance.
"I believe Malaysia need to have a better plan in future and not just look towards playing club sides in Australia to improve.
"And for the women to climb onto the world stage, like the Asian Games medal or a World Cup appearance, MHC must first plan to qualify for the Junior World Cup.
"Our women have yet to play in the Junior World Cup, and its too much to ask for, from these seniors, to break more glass ceilings if Malaysia can't even qualify for the junior tournament," said Maninderjit Singh.