Talismanic striker and former skipper Rani Rampal was on Tuesday axed from the 18-member Indian women’s hockey team, to be led by goalkeeper Savita Punia, for next month’s FIH World Cup.
Rani, an inspirational skipper and forward who led the Indian women to the historic fourth-place finish at the 2020 Olympics, was picked for the recent FIH Pro League matches in Belgium and Netherlands after recovering from a hamstring injury, which had kept her out of action after the Tokyo Games.
Although part of the squad, Rani didn’t feature in the first four games of the side’s European leg of Pro League, raising doubts about her full fitness, which eventually cost her a place in the World Cup-bound squad.
Besides Rani’s exclusion, there are no further surprises as India went or a tried and tested squad, which has been playing together for a long time.
Apart from Rani, defenders Ishika Chaudhary and Akshata Abaso Dhekale, midfielder Baljeet Kaur and striker Sangita Kumari missed out from India’s recent FIH Pro League squad as the team management reposed faith on the core group of players.
The World Cup will be jointly co-hosted by the Netherlands and Spain from July 1 to 17.
While Savita will continue to lead the side, Deep Grace Ekka remains her deputy.
Beside Savita, Bichu Devi Kharibam is the other goalkeeper in the 18-member squad.
The defence will be under watchful vigil of Deep Grace, who will also have support from Gurjit Kaur, Nikki Pradhan and Udita, while Nisha, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Monika, Neha, Jyoti, Navjot Kaur, Sonika and Salima Tete will be in charge of the midfield.
The forwardline features the very experienced Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur and Sharmila Devi while talented young stars Akshata and Sangita have been named as replacement players.
India are grouped in Pool B along side England, New Zealand and China and will begin their campaign on July 3 against nemesis England, to whom they have lost the bronze medal match in the Tokyo Olympics.
In the previous edition of the prestigious quadrennial event held in London, the Indian team entered the quarterfinals before losing to Ireland in the shootout.
“We have chosen the best squad for the World Cup. It is a mix of experience and young talent who have shown great promise when they were given a chance against top teams in the FIH Pro League,” India’s chief coach Janneke Schopman said in a release.
“Except Rani, who is still not fully recovered from injury rehabilitation, the team has all the players who were part of the Olympic campaign with inclusions like Jyoti and Sonika who have done well in their roles when given a chance.
“We will also have Sangita and Akshata who will travel with the team as replacement players. The team is absolutely excited and eager to begin their World Cup campaign.” India will play their group stage matches in Amstelveen, Netherlands and if they top the group, they will play the quarterfinals too in Amstelveen before the team moves to Terrassa, Spain for the semifinals and final.
The crossover matches for pool B will be played in Spain.
Goalkeepers: Savita (C), Bichu Devi Kharibam.
Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka (VC), Gurjit Kaur, Nikki Pradhan, Udita.
Midfielders: Nisha, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Monika, Neha, Jyoti, Navjot Kaur, Sonika, Salima Tete.
Forwards: Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur, Sharmila Devi.
Replacement players: Akshata Abaso Dhekale, Sangita Kumari. PTI SSC SSC ATK