New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) Former Indian women's hockey captain Ritu Rani ended her premature retirement and on Thursday made it to the squad for next month's Women's Hockey World League (HWL) Round 2. This will be new chief coach Sjoerd Marijne's first major test.
Midfielder Ritu, 25, announced her retirement in September last year after her wedding which also preceded her being removed from the Rio Olympic squad following a disagreement with then chief coach Neil Hawgood.
"I am very happy and excited to be back in the national camp with my teammates. I thank Hockey India for allowing me to withdraw my retirement and giving me the opportunity to be part of the team again," Ritu said in a statement.
"My family is extremely supportive of me playing hockey and they really encouraged me to pursue the sport even after marriage. They are the reason why I am back again."
Ritu was the captain of the team that qualified for the Rio Games after a gap of 36 years. And at Rio, the team missed her experience at the centre of the pitch.
Now, with a new coahing staff and a new Olympic cycle, both the team and Ritu want a fresh beginning from the HWL Round 2 which will be played in West Vancouver, Canada, from April 1.
Ritu is returning to the squad as a player. The team will be captained by Rani Rampal.
"I think the women's team has entered a new and exciting phase where I believe if we work hard, we can really make a mark in world hockey," she stated.
The all-important HWL Round 2 will witness India participate alongside Belarus, Canada, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Chile.
Besides Ritu, the squad includes the experienced Deepika, Rani Rampal, Vandana Katariya, Poonam Rani, Navjot Kaur, Deep Grace Ekka, Renuka Yadav, Monika, Sunita Lakra, Namita Toppo, and goalkeeper Savita who were all part of the Rio Olympics squad too.
The Indian eves recorded an emphatic win against Belarus in the recently-concluded five-match Test Series. They registered five straight wins to seal the Series held in Bhopal.
Speaking about the big win ahead of the HWL Round 2, coach Marijne said, "The most important thing in the Test series was to understand each other. Besides that, we wanted to implement a few new things and the girls understand better and better which is really good."
"I am happy with the result and most importantly I am happy with their consistent performance."
Marijne insisted that the following weeks at the national camp in Bhopal will be crucial in terms of improving their fitness and other tactical structure.
"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. We like to play fast hockey and it starts with these elements," the Dutchman said.
He stated that playing practice matches is important as it helps improve the team's defensive skills.
The Test series against Belarus was the first tournament of Marijne and analytical coach Eric Wonink with the Indian outfit after they took charge.
Speaking about his new assignment as Chief Coach for the Indian women's team, Marijne said that his first few weeks have been fruitful.
"We feel really welcome. The team is very disciplined and they show the eagerness to get better and better. As coaches, it is a good environment to be in," he said.
Squad: Goalkeepers: Savita, Rajani Etimarpu; Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka, Sunita Lakra, Gurjit Kaur, Renuka Yadav, Lalhlunmawii; Midfielders: Deepika, Navjot Kaur, Ritu Rani, Monika, M. Lily Chanu, Namita Toppo; Forwards: Rani Rampal, Vandana Katariya, Poonam Rani, Sonika, Anupa Barla.