India’s most celebrated women hockey player Rani Rampal often sets the tongues wagging when he is not part of the national side. The continued absence of the ace forward from the Indian team since their fighting fourth-place finish at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics owing to a prolonged hamstring injury, has been a big talking point across the hockey fraternity – of course, she did feature in a solitary FIH Pro League game (against Belgium in Antwerp in June this year – her first international match in more than ten months, which happened to be her 250th international cap. The statistical importance of that game led gossip mills go into an overdrive insinuating whether the mercurial Haryana player had played her last international match for the Blueskirts. Subsequently, Rani was not included for the Commonwealth Games and World Cup.
There is often a wrong line of thought that Rani is past her prime and is ageing. This is because Rani made her senior internationsl debut as a 15-year-old at the Champion’s Challenge Tournament held in Kazan, Russia in June 2009, and played for the country for 13 years and it is often assumed that she is over the hill. At 27, it would a tad harsh to call Rani a ‘veteran’. Not many were clear about whether Rani is still going through a rehab or match-fit, due to lack of transparency on the player’s status. The 36th National Games in Gujarat was a huge opportunity for Rani to make a statement and she delivered in style, not only captaining Haryana women to the national crown but also showing her famish for scoring goals – slamming 18 goals in 6 games, including two hat-tricks against Odisha and Jharkhand in the semifinals.
It would be interesting to observe whether Rani’s five-star performance would be adequate to break into the national side for the FIH Women’s Nations Cup to be held at Valencia, Spain in December – the larger question is would she fit into Janneke Schopman’s scheme of things? “Even when we picked the Haryana side for the 36th National Games, we were not sure whether Rani is in rehab mode or match-fit. Our state Sports Director Sir called up Rani to understand if she is fit and available to play for Haryana. She promptly replied that she is fully fit and available for the 36th National Games,” reveals Haryana Women Hockey Team Coach Meenakshi in a chat with Hockey Passion.
The Haryana Women Hockey Team Coach believes it would be hard to overlook the stupendous form of Rani in the 36th National Games. “It is grossly to question her fitness and performance after her blockbuster run in the 36th National Games. All the talk of she being in rehab was thrown out of the window when we saw her play in the practice games in the run up to our campaign in the National Games. There was never any doubt that she is fully fit,” quips Meenakshi.
Meenakshi herself, a former India and Haryana forward has no doubts that Rani must be on the flight to Valencia for the FIH Women’s Nations Cup. “Rani was brilliant as a captain of Haryana and rallied the side together. Look at her form, she scored in every match and scored all five goals for us in the semifinal against Jharkhand and also scored the match-winner in the final against Punjab. I couldn’t have asked for more from her,” gushes her state coach.
The weight of expectations is always there with big players and Rani is no exception, says Meenakshi. “The onus was on her to perform in the 36th National Games and let everyone know that she is ready for India comeback and she did not disappoint one bit. Indian forwardline with in-form Rani can be exceedingly handy in the upcoming FIH Women’s Nations Cup,” she concludes.
One would be mighty surprised if a match-fit Rani Rampal is overlooked for the FIH Women’s Nations Cup as it would lead people to think she is out of the national side not on grounds of fitness or performance or something else that hockey fans can’t probably see it.