Bengaluru, March 14: A new-look Indian women's hockey team, led by Rani Rampal, will hope to better their fifth-place finish at the upcoming Commonwealth Games from April 4-15. The 18-member squad announced by Hockey India on Wednesday (March 14) carries a good balance of experience and raw talent, sure to impress at the CWG in Gold Coast. India are placed in Pool A along with Malaysia, England, South Africa and Wales. Their campaign will kick-off against Wales on April 5. After a gold in 2002 and a silver in 2006, India finished a poor fifth in the 2010 and 2014 editions of the CWG.
This time though, medal hopes for India remain high as they showed their mettle in Asia by bagging the Asia Cup last year. Coached by Harendra Singh, who famously led the Indians to a Junior Hockey World Cup title in 2016, India women recently clinched a series against Korea 3-1.
"The year 2018 is very important for women's hockey. It starts with the Commonwealth Games, then you have the women's hockey World Cup and immediately after that, you have the Asian Games. These three tournaments are important in that order in improving our ranking. The Asian Games will obviously give us a spot in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics so it's the most crucial of all," coach Harendra Singh told reporters on Wednesday (March 14).
Harendra feels the performance of World No 10 India in Korea, who are ranked ninth, gives them immense confidence ahead of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
"Prior to any tournament, if the results are on your side, it's encouraging for the players," Harendra said. "If you show improvement, which is what we showed, it builds a good momentum. I am pleased the way team is scoring. If you see total analysis of the goals we scored in the Asia Cup and Korea trip, we have balanced field goals and penalty corners well. In Gurjit Kaur we have a great drag-flicker. As for open scoring, we have different girls rescuing our team at different times."
Returning to the side after injury lay-offs are defender Deepika and forward Poonam Rani. The fitness of both players were put to test in the Korean tour and the team management appears to be convinced of their contributions to the side.
"They have a lot of experience in the bag," Harendra said. "Both girls have contributed to the team's progress in Korea. I hope the same continues towards the team and their individual improvement. Both are returning after being sidelined due to injury for a year. Returning from injury, playing and scoring gives you confidence. Deepika scored a great penalty corner and Poonam was fantastic in the second post. Both of them inspire others and give moral boost for the players. Usually, the mindset of a player goes negative after suffering an injury. Seeing both of them perform, that must have been erased in the minds of others."
Rani, who has been leading the regularly after the 2016 Rio Olympics, feels the team has improved tremendously since the failure in Brazil. She says her role, as the skipper, is to inspire others. "As a captain, you have to set a good example to the team. We play a team sport, moreover, so I want to develop a leader in every position. Everyone is important for the team and each one has a role. If you see collectively, they all complete their responsibilities. The captain's role, once I achieve this, becomes easy this way."
Goalkeepers: Savita Punia (VC), Rajani Etimarpu
Defenders: Deepika, Sunita Lakra, Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam
Midfielders: Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal, Lilima Minz
Forwards: Rani Rampal (C), Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur, Poonam Rani