NEW DELHI: Exactly eight months after she was dropped from the Indian squad for the Rio Olympics and six months after she was recalled only to call it quits from the national side, experienced midfielder and former captain Ritu Rani completed her return to the Indian women’s hockey team after being named for the Hockey World League (HWL) Round 2 in Vancouver next month.
The team was officially announced on Thursday but Ritu had returned to the fold earlier, featuring in the recent Test series against Belarus that India won 5-0. She had refused to talk, though, preferring to concentrate on the matches. After the official announcement, however, she admitted the feeling was one of homecoming and relief.
“It is good to be back. It is good to play competitive hockey again, be with my teammates, be out there in an India jersey and play for the country. It’s good to come back to the team on a winning note. That’s what I have done for more than 10 years, there has been little else in my life. It was tough to be away for so long but now is a new beginning with a new staff and new coach,” Ritu told The Hindu from Bhopal, where the team is training at the moment.
She had been dropped from the Olympics side for form and disciplinary issues by former coach Neil Hawgood, something that was denied by the player who later quit, saying with her Olympics dreams shattered, there was no reason for her to continue.
“I am glad of the fact that Hockey India understood my position and accepted my decision to come out of retirement. My family is extremely supportive of me playing hockey and encouraged me to pursue the sport even after marriage,” she added.
The HWL Round 2 will begin on April 1 and a good placing in the competition will help the team qualify for the HWL Semifinals and also improve its ranking.
Besides Ritu, the other senior hands in the side include Deepika Thakur, Rani Rampal, Vandana Katariya, Deep Grace Ekka, and goalkeeper Savita, all part of the Rio squad.
New coach Marijne Sjoerd was optimistic about the team’s chances.
“The most important thing in the test series was to understand each other. We also wanted to implement a few new things and the girls understand better and better which is really good. The next few weeks will be crucial as we will train on specific details. The focus will be on fitness, passing and receiving specific to the tactical structure we want to play,” he said.
Besides India, the other teams at Vancouver include Belarus, Canada, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Chile.
Goalkeepers: Savita Punia, Rajani Etimarpu; Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka, Sunita Lakra, Gurjit Kaur, Renuka Yadav, Lalhlunmawii; Midfielders: Deepika Thakur, Navjot Kaur, Ritu Rani, Monika, Lily Chanu, Namita Toppo; Forwards: Rani Rampal, Vandana Katariya, Poonam Rani, Sonika, Anupa Barla.