New Delhi: Ace striker Rani will lead the 18-member Indian women’s hockey squad while experienced goalkeeper Savita will serve as her deputy in the prestigious Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, which is slated to begin on April 4.
The Indian team is grouped in Pool A along with Malaysia, Wales, England and South Africa and will begin their campaign on April 5 against Wales.
It should be noted that Savita is making a return to the team after having been rested for the recently-concluded tour of South Korea.
Savita will be accompanied by Rajani Etimarpu in goal while the defence unit is packed with experience and grit as Deepika, Sunita Lakra, Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur and Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam will look to keep out the opposition’s attacks.
Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal and Lilima Minz will form the midfield while Rani, Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur and Poonam Rani, who returned to the squad during South Korea tour, will form India’s attack.
The Indian team is currently ranked number 10th in the world and will face stiff competition from higher ranked teams such as world number two England, world number four New Zealand and world number five hosts Australia.
However, Chief Coach Harendra Singh is confident that the determined team can cause huge upsets on the back of winning the five-match series in South Korea.
“We have played with the same set of players for a long period so the players have formed a great understanding between themselves which was evident during our 2017 Asia Cup triumph. The team also performed well in South Korea to beat a higher-ranked side and we will be looking to cause a few upsets and aim for the podium as the morale is high going into the prestigious Gold Coast 2018 XXI Commonwealth Games,” he said.
The coach also welcomed the inclusion of the experienced goalkeeper Savita, who is currently in Oman undergoing a Goalkeeping coaching course.
The Junior Men’s World Cup-winning coach said, “Savita is an integral part of the team and brings a lot of experience in goal for us. She has played over 200 matches for her country and has performed in crucial matches of big tournaments. Therefore, it is good to have her back on the team as she helps the defensive and offensive players as well by imparting her expertise.”
The Indian women’s hockey team infamously won the Gold Medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in England after defeating the hosts 3-2 after extra-time in the Final match, and won the silver medal in the subsequent 2006 Commonwealth Games in Australia as they lost in the Final to the hosts. However, the team has only managed to finish fifth in the 2010 and 2014 editions of the quadrennial tournament. But skipper Rani is confident that her team can repeat the feat of 2002 and 2006 in Australia.
The 23-year-old said, “We go into the tournament in good form after winning the series in South Korea and while we have only finished fifth in the two previous occasions, this time we will look to finish on the podium as we have a great set of players with a mixture of experience and youth. The team’s hunger to win will certainly be a key factor in us performing well at the Games.”
The full squad is as follows:
Goalkeepers: Savita (vice-captain), 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 (captain), Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur, Poonam Rani.