She is considered a precious commodity in Indian women’s hockey. Rani Rampal is indeed one who has managed to make the hockey world sit up and take notice of her exploits.
The talented 18-year-old has been out of the national team for a long while due to a prolonged back injury, but is now ready to shoulder the responsibility as vice captain of the Indian junior hockey team for the upcoming 7th Junior Women’s World Cup beginning in Monchengladbach, Germany from July 27.
The proficient forward is determined to put the back injury behind her and help India produce an impactful performance in the 7th Junior Women’s World Cup. “I’m glad to be back in the national team. I had been dealing with my back injury for a long time ¬– I did not play the Champions Challenge tourney last year as well as the six-match Test series against New Zealand. I played in the Hockey World League Round 2 event in New Delhi. I even went to the Netherlands for an exposure trip ahead of the Hockey World League Round 3 event, but the selectors took a call to rest me for the Rotterdam event keeping in mind the 7th World Cup,” Rani says in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.
The mercurial forward, who was voted the youngest player of the 2010 World Cup in Rosario, assesses India chances in the marquee event. “I never see any team as a favourite be it the Netherlands, Germany or Korea; in modern hockey any team is beatable and no team can be taken lightly. It all depends on how a team plays to its fullest potential on a given day, that’s all matters,” the youngster, bubbling with enthusiasm, calls spade a spade.
There is a lot of talk that the Indian junior women’s team is fairly well balanced as it comprises twelve players from the senior team that finished a dismal seventh in the Hockey World League Round 3 event in Rotterdam. Rani seeks to clear the air regarding the same. “Well, if you look at our side, it still lacks in experience. No doubt, twelve players are part of the senior team that played recently in Rotterdam, but you got to realize that these are all youngsters who have made it to the senior team in the last twelve months or so. If you take me out along with Poonam Rani and Vandana Katariya, the rest are relatively newcomers,” the girl, who was named in FIH All Star XI and Asian All Star XI in 2010, reasons.
Rani Rampal, Poonam Rani and Vandana Katariya are only three survivors of the Indian junior team that finished 9th in the last edition in 2009 in Boston. Clearly, the nippy forward, who is the youngest senior India debutant at 14, is keen to see her country improve on their Boston event. “We trained hard for the World Cup, hopefully we will turn in a much improved effort this time around,” she exudes hope.
At the 2009 World Cup in Boston, India surprised Australia 3-2 in their tournament opener and at the 2013 edition, the Blueskirts are meeting the Jillaroos again in their lung-opener. “We can derive inspiration from that match against Australia. My current team-mate Poonam Rani scored the first goal while Asem Manorami Devi scored a final minute goal to help us glean full points,” the Indian Railways employee recounts.
How difficult was it seeing the senior women’s team performing so abysmally in Rotterdam? “It’s was disappointing to see our girls lose by big margins. But then, we had a young team, lacking in experience. The team missed drag-flicker Jaspreet Kaur who underwent a knee operation, even Joydeep Kaur was missed - who could not attend the first camp because her mother was not keeping well,” she quips.
Rani, who slammed seven goals in the 2012 Hockey World League Round 2 event in New Delhi, endured tough times during her initials days in picking up the tricks of the trade. “My family had to toil to make ends meet – my father worked as a cartpuller, even today we don’t want him to work as it is not required but he insists it’s something he likes, my brothers do small-time works,” she reminisces how the odds were stacked against her.
But there is one man whom Rani owes everything for whatever she has achieved in hockey. It’s Baldev Singh, who has trained stars like Surinder Kaur and Mamta Kharab - he has been coaching the girls from Shahbad Markanda, touted as the nursery of women hockey in the country, for the last 23 years. “I whole-heartedly convey my gratitude coach Baldev Singh Sir – I owe everything to him.– he gave me hockey stick, dress and kit as my family could not afford it – he want someone like me from a low-income background to make a name in the sport. I trained under him at the Shahbad Hockey Academy,” he lavished praise on her guru.
She revealed one incident which pointed to the strict disciplinarian Baldev Singh was. “Sir was very strict. One day in 2002, I was supposed to attend practice at 5:00 am but I arrived at 5:05 am. He told me to pay fine of Rs 100 for coming late as a way of telling me to be a disciplined player. Of course, he never took the money as she knew well that I could not afford it.”
Rani, whose role model is Surinder Kaur, is happy to be in the Indian hockey’s scheme of things, but wants more jobs for women hockey players. “You guys should write about it. Only Railways is giving jobs to women hockey players, which does not augur well for the future of the sport. OMCs, banks or government agencies must come forward to offer jobs for women hockey players, “ she signed off.