New Delhi: After the lows of the Indian Women's League (IWL), it has been the story of resurgence for Yumnam Kamala Devi as she finished as the second highest goalscorer at the recently concluded Senior Women's National Football Championships in Arunachal Pradesh.
Kamala had managed just two goals in five matches with FC Kolhapur City at the IWL in May, but her form and fortunes turned around as she found the back of the net 20 times in just six games this month in the Nationals, held in Pasighat. She remained just one goal short of the top scorer Bala Devi.
It has taken Kamala four months of hard work, not only on her game and fitness, but also on developing a steely mental resolve to regain her form.
When Railways and Manipur meet tomorrow, there will be a battle within a battle, as @YumnamKamala and Bala Devi try to beat each other to the top of the scoring chart. There can't be a better subplot to the final. Who are you betting on? #SWNFC19 #HerGameToo #indianfootball pic.twitter.com/904SMQO8kV— Women's Football India (@WomensFootieIND) September 23, 2019
Kamala has not been with the national team for the past nine months after she, along with six other Manipuri players - Ngangom Bala Devi, Kshetrimayum Margaret Devi, Kashmina MS, Umapati Devi, Elangbam Panthoi Chanu and Ranjibala Devi - decided to sit out of the national camp over differences with head coach Maymol Rocky and assistant coach Chaoba Devi.
They wrote a letter to AIFF voicing their concerns but the national federation chose not to acknowledge them, leading to the boycott by the players.
Bala Devi scored 26 goals in seven games during the IWL and received the national call-up again for the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 Qualifiers camp and joined. Subsequently, Panthoi also found her way back to the team.
However, the other five are still away from the national scene.
In Pasighat, in front of a zealous and enthusiastic crowd, Kamala has now made a case for herself to get back in the national team.
During the IWL, Kamala had told News18.com that she wasn't in the right frame of mind, which affected her performance on the pitch. So, what changed in the last four months?
"I felt really sad about my IWL performance because of which I thought that I would put in more effort. I tried to tell myself that even if I am not in the national team, my performance should still stay good," Kamala said.
Kamala is an employee of the Railways and was posted in Patna, Bihar, before the IWL. However, she was transferred to Guwahati after that, from where she paved the path to her resurgence.
Kamala said Patna lacked facilities, but in Guwahati, she had access to swimming pool, gym, coaches and a good field to begin working on her game again.
In order to find her form back, Kamala even practiced with the local boys' team, which helped improve her game. Due to all the off-field troubles, she also lost fitness levels and to regain it, she put special focus on gym and swimming these past four months.
The most difficult of working on all aspects was the mental part though.
"I felt on my own that even if I don't get to play for India, my game should remain as good. Ahead of the Nationals, I relaxed my head a bit and kept a positive outlook, which helped me do better," Kamala shared.
Kamala shares the credit of her Nationals performance with her teammates at Railways. She says, from the coaches to the players, everyone supported and motivated her and made her believe that she needed to score for the team to perform well. And that is what happened.
BACK IN RECKONING?
Arjuna awardee and Manipur's coach during the Nationals, Bembem Devi, feels that during the IWL, Kamala's team FC Kolhapur City lacked the overall quality, which also affected her performance. Bembem was all praise for Kamala's performance during the Nationals and pointed out the standout quality of her game.
"Kamala's ball-trapping is excellent, it never goes out of control. With her experience, she also very well knows how to pass the ball to her strikers and create spaces. Of course, she is good at finding the back of the net.
"All she needs to work more on is her physical fitness. If she develops her shin muscle more, she'll be able to do even better," Bembem told News18.com.
Bembem also feels that the way Kamala performed in Pasighat, she deserves to get a call-up back into the national squad. However, Kamala revealed that she has had no conversation with head coach Maymol, who was also in Pasighat during the tournament.
"I don't know if I will get a call back. I want to play for India a lot but I do not want to apologise and moreover, the juniors that are coming up are also good and they are doing well even without me."
Kamala made her stand very clear - "If I get a call-up on merit, I can speak and sort things out. I don't want to say sorry and ask them to call me back into the national setup."