Meet the Indian women’s hockey team as they open their campaign on 21 July against Olympic Champions England at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London. England, USA and Ireland. With close to 2000 caps in the team, experience is not something the Asia Cup Champions lack.
Name: Rani Rampal (Captain)
Shirt No: 28
When most were still trying to break into the state junior sides, Rani, at the age of 15, was already the youngest player to represent the national team at her debut tournament. She made headlines at the 2009 Champions Challenge at Kazan where she picked up the title of the highest scorer with four goals in the final. She is also the only Indian to be nominated for the FIH Women's Young Player of the Year Award and also won the ‘Best Young Player of the Tournament’ at the 2010 Women's Hockey World Cup in Argentina. Rani has the capability of turning a match on its head –with a defence splitting pass or a strike from the corner of the circle. The Indian captain believes ‘experience’ will be the strength of the team at the 2018 World Cup.
Savita Punia (Vice-Captain)
Her grandfather wanted to toughen her up, so hockey was the sport he chose. Today, that toughness is visible when she stands up to penalty corners and sharp strikes from opposition forwards. Without doubt, one of the finest goalkeepers to have represented India, the 27-year-old was also a part of the team that won the Women’s Asian Champions Trophy in 2016 and the 2016 Rio Olympics. It was her crucial save in the penalty shootout in the final of 9th Women’s Asia Cup that saw India lift the trophy after 13 years. “Rankings are not important,” says Savita. “Dealing with the situation in a match is.”
There will be extra temple visits for Rajani’s mother in the next couple of weeks as her daughter starts a World Cup campaign that could define India’s success at the top level. “She prays for my success and the team’s,” says the player from Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh. The goalkeeper has been a constant in the core group and was a part of the Indian team which participated at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She has been at every tournament with the coach fully aware that he has one of the best back-ups in town. She was also a part of the team that won the 9th Women’s Asia Cup 2017.
Coming back after injuries is tough but making a return after an ACL is nothing short of a minor miracle. Deepika, who sometimes moves up like a forward or a wingback from a defender’s position, knows that hard work and a little blessing have gone into finding a place in the team after a 10-month recovery from surgery. The 31- year-old is a two-time World Cupper, making appearances at the 2006 and 2010 editions. In London, it will be her experience in defending and creating those counter-strikes that will give India the momentum it needs in crucial situations. Deepika was also a part of the 9th Women’s Asia Cup 2017 gold medal winning team.
Captain for the Asian Champions Trophy, 2018, where India lost at the final hurdle to host South Korea 0-1, Lakra is a vital cog in the defensive structure of the team. She is calm as a defender and time and again can be seen taking the ball away from a melee of sticks and legs. Lakra made her debut for the national team in 2009 and in the nine years with the senior team has been a part of victories in the Asian Champions Trophy in 2016 and the 9th Women’s Asia Cup 2017. It will be her defensive duties and leadership qualities that will help India remain calm and collected during moments of stress.
Deep Grace Ekka
Groomed at the SAI Centre in Sundargarh, Deep Grace Ekka shot to prominence when she was part of the Odisha National Schools (U-17) Hockey Tournament in 2009. Now acknowledged as one of the best defenders in the national side, she is the one who commits very few errors while holding and releasing the ball. Grace was selected in the senior team which won the bronze medal at the 8th Women’s Asia Cup in 2013. Since then she has been a regular fixture in the side. India, despite having a very balanced side, at the World Cup will look up to Grace to minimize errors when defending against fast paced teams like England. Grace is also a very competent penalty corner flicker.
If India need goals at crucial intervals and have their penalty corner drill work at more than 35 percent, Gurjit Kaur will have to play a vital role. She has a powerful flick and can create angles leaving the opposition defence dumb-founded. From Khalsa College, Jalandhar, Gurjit played an important role in India’s victory at the 9th Women’s Asia Cup in Japan where she scored a total of eight goals, finishing as the tournament’s third-highest goal-scorer. Apart from defensive skills, where she plays deep, Sjoerd Marijne’s team will look at more goals from her if they have to travel further in the World Cup.
Monika was noticed as a thinking midfielder when Chandigarh picked up a bronze in the junior nationals in Sonepat in 2010 and her talent shone yet again in the 2012 junior nationals where Chandigarh claimed silver. Fast-tracked immediately into the Indian junior side, Monika is known for her skills and that reverse sweep that usually finds forwards inside the circle. She inspired the national team with a goal in the final of the 9th Women’s Asia Cup 2017 and FIH Women’s Hockey World League Round 2 held in Canada in 2017. She was also a key member of the bronze winning Indian side at the 2014 Asian Games.
From the Panposh Sports hostel to the Champions Challenge 1 at Dublin in 2012 was a dream comes true for Namita Toppo. Wearing the national colour has always inspired her. “Playing for India is what all hockey players dream and only a few make it happen,” she said. “At the World Cup, I want to make it count.” One of the five who make up the midfield of the current Indian team, Namita was also a member of the national team that won bronze at the Women’s Junior World Cup in Germany in 2013. Toppo has also represented India at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, Incheon Asian Games in 2014, and the 9th Women’s Asia Cup in 2017.
Daughter of a police constable, Nikki created history when she became the first woman hockey player from Jharkhand to play for India at the Olympics. Injuries have been a part of her career and her less than a hundred caps don’t do justice to her talent and skill. One of the fittest players in the team, Nikki, apart from representing India at the Olympics, has played at the Hockey World league Semi Finals and the Asia Cup in 2017.
Neha began training in a hockey academy run by former India captain Pritam Siwach. Sticks, shoes and even kits were an issue. Grit was in plenty as Neha realized that is she makes it could lead to a better life for her parents who were struggling to just ensure their daughter keeps playing. Neha first represented India at the age of 14 when she was picked for the Junior Asia Cup in 2011. The breakthrough moment came in the U-21 four-nation Lal Bahadur Shastri women's hockey tournament where Neha was declared player of the tournament. By 2014 she had made her senior debut and played her first match at the FIH Champions Challenge in Glasgow. Now a key member, Neha’s midfield skills in holding the ball and pushing the momentum towards the opposition makes her a player to look out for.
Spotted at the National Rural Games in 2009 when Odisha became champions, Lilima’s move up the hockey ladder has been smooth and effortless. A player who plays with finesse, she is always unruffled when moving with the ball. At her best when moving forward, Lilima can suddenly swerve and create an opening for other players. She was part of the Indian junior team that won bronze at the 2013 Junior World Cup at Monchengladbach, Germany. Since her debut in 2015, she has been an integral part of the team representing India at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Hockey World League Semi Finals and the Asia Cup.
Top scorer at the U-18 Asia Cup in Bangkok, Navjot Kaur’s rise in Indian women’s hockey has been steady. Today, in the World Cup side for London, Navjot is a player whose striking prowess inside the circle is what the team would be looking to enhance and give India goals from half chances. Confidence is sky high for the Haryana player as she scored in the 2017 Asia Cup final against China and also in the shoot-out where India won the title to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Part of the team that won bronze at the 2013 Junior World Cup, she has played at the 17th Asian Games, 2016 Rio Olympics, and 4th Women's Asian Champions Trophy and was also part of India's successful campaign at the Women's Hockey World League Round 2 in Canada.
Third-highest scorer in the 2013 Junior World Cup with five goals, Vandana is now the player who can create and also score inside the opposition striking circle. There are times when she might seem slow but the Indian forward’s skills give enough time for the others to get into scoring positions. At the age of 26, Vandana knows that the World Cup is a great opportunity to make a mark. The Indian forward named as the ‘player of the tournament’ at the Asian Champions Trophy 2018 believes beating England at the Commonwealth Games will give them the confidence in their first match against the hosts at the World Cup.
Her hat-trick against Japan in the Asian Champions Trophy, 2018 set the momentum for India to go all the way to the final. Consistency has been her hall-mark and it would be required more now than ever before when India take on England, USA and Ireland in their Pool. Even at the Asia Cup where India won the trophy, she was one of the most impactful players with four goals. Navneet was also a part of the team that won bronze at the 2013 Junior World Cup.
At the World Cup in London, Lalremsiami would be the youngest member of Team India. Scoring goals regularly against top teams and also hugely successful across U-17 and U-18 Asian tournaments, she is one of the talents to watch out for in the Indian team. Lalremsiami was born and brought up in Kolasib in Mizoram where after being spotted at the Women’s Hockey Training Centre, she played a vital role in India’s success at last year’s Asia Cup scoring against Japan and Singapore. A robust defender and one of the quickest inside the striking circle when it comes to picking up rebounds, Lalremsiami will be marked very closely by the opposition defence.
Midfielder Udita has slowly blossomed into a resolute midfielder who with her pace on the wings can cut into the circle and try to create shots to hustle the opposition defence. In 2016, Udita led a U-18 Indian team to the Asia Cup where India reached the final. Her selection for the World Cup is an indication that the selectors do believe that she can shore up the mid zones and is also a talent to be watched out for, especially in a year when the Asian Games is right after the World Cup.
One thing that Reena won’t be doing in London is balancing her MBA degree with playing time. The World Cup selection has come as a surprise but Reena Khokhar, a firm believer in studies to enhance oneself and have better career options after one is through with sport is going to completely focus on hockey. The Chandigarh girl who is a part of the Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy owes it to her coaches who saw the talent and recommended her to coach Sjoerd Marijne who promptly picked her for London.
Updated Date: Jul 18, 2018 07:41 AM