Ace striker Rani Rampal was named captain of a 20-strong Indian women’s hockey team on Friday for next month’s season-opening away series against Korea, where fit-again forward Poonam Rani will make a comeback.
India will play five matches against the hosts at the Jinchun National Athletic Centre, from March 3 to 12.
Defender Sunita Lakra will be Rani’s deputy during the trip. With celebrated goalkeeper Savita rested for the tour, Rajani Etimarpu will be joined by debutant Swati to guard the Indian goalpost in Korea.
The defence line will feature the experienced Deepika, who was out of action following a knee surgery last year. She will be joined by Suman Devi Thoudam, Deep Grace Ekka, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam and Gurjit Kaur who will double up as dragflicker.
Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal, Udita and Lilima Minz will form the midfield while Rani, Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur and Poonam, who is also returning after a long injury haul, will form Indiaâ€™s attack.
The Korea Tour will be the Indian team’s first event after its historic Asia Cup success where the side beat China 5-4 in a penalty shootout to lift the title in November last year.
“Doing well in the season’s first event is always important to gain confidence and momentum for the rest of the year. Also, Korea Tour will help us analyse the areas that requires improvement ahead of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games where we aim to finish on the podium,” chief coach Harendra Singh said.
On selecting a balanced team with young and experienced players, Harendra Singh said, “It is good to see experienced players Deepika and Poonam overcome injuries and return to the squad.
“We have a good mix of experienced players who will play an important role of guiding some of the youngsters in the team.”
With the team consistently improving in terms of fitness and speed, Harendra is confident of a good show in Korea.
“The girls are consistently scoring well in the Yo-Yo Tests which indicate their speed, fitness level is improving.
“Most of the girls participated in the National Championship in Ranchi where they performed well for their respective teams and I was also there to watch some of the matches. I am sure they will carry forward this good form in Korea too,” he added.
Goalkeepers: Rajani Etimarpu, Swati
Defenders: Deepika, Sunita Lakra (VC), Deep Grace Ekka, Suman Devi Thoudam, Gurjit Kaur, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam
Midfielders: Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal, Lilima Minz, Udita
Forwards: Rani (C), Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur, Poonam Rani.