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Rani’s absence from the Indian women’s hockey team since the recurrence of her hamstring injury following the Tokyo Olympics deepened once she returned healthy to lead Haryana to the National Games gold last month, but she still did not make the India squad for the Nations Cup.
The Nations Cup, a brand-new competition launched by the FIH for entry into the top-tier Pro League, will take place from December 11–17 in Valencia, Spain, and the Indian team will travel there. After Australia and New Zealand withdrew due to COVID-related international travel restrictions, India and Spain were given the opportunity to compete in the final season of the Pro League as replacement teams.
The Nations Cup will feature Chile, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, South Africa, and the hosts, Spain, in addition to India. The 27-year-old Rani was once again the centre of attention when she was left off of the Indian team that had already been announced for the competition.
For the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, former India captain Rani was left off the roster. Rani has still not fully recovered from injury rehabilitation, according to team chief coach Janneke Schopman, who took over after Sjoerd Marijne resigned following the Tokyo Olympics.
Rani has remained a member of the core group during this phase, but she was not chosen for the team, with the exception of the Pro League trip to Europe, where she participated in one game against Belgium.
At the National Games, Rani had a second chance to demonstrate her form and fitness. She scored 18 goals to help Haryana win the gold medal. However, she was not selected in the 20-player roster for the Nations Cup, which dashed hopes that one of India’s most significant women’s hockey players would play for the nation once more.
In the interim, social media posts suggesting a potential team split have appeared.
reached out to coach Schopman, who fielded all of the challenging inquiries and provided her opinions on the team’s development since the historic fourth-place result at the Tokyo Olympics while anticipating the Nations Cup.
How are things going with the team’s Nations Cup preparation?
Since we will be competing against top-ranked nations, I believe it will be an interesting test for us. The fact that they (teams in the Pro League) are ranked higher makes losing seem somewhat normal. Only Spain is a higher-ranked opponent in this competition (the Nations Cup) (India are ranked No. 8 and Spain No. 7). Therefore, for us, it differs a little. Our strategy won’t necessarily change as a result. In my opinion, we should leverage our individual strengths.
It will be interesting to see if we have more possession, which is something we have been practising for over the past few months in order to achieve better results. We have been considering how we can be more threatening and diverse in our penalty corner attack. That’ll be a fun challenge, in my opinion. We are getting better in the practise setting, so it will be crucial to see if we can maintain that during the competition since I don’t believe we will have much room to attack.
Two significant assignments have already taken place during your coaching tenure with India: the World Cup, where we placed ninth, and the Commonwealth Games, where we took home a bronze medal. How do you see your progress so far?
I like to consider the performance rather than just the result. I believe that in the Pro League, we learned a lot. If you look at the World Cup’s results, I believe they weren’t good. I concur wholeheartedly. It was discouraging. In the meantime, I carefully assessed the team and each player, drawing certain conclusions about where the team needed to work and where individual players needed to work.
After the World Cup, we only had a very short turnaround before the Commonwealth Games, and I was extremely pleased with the team’s response in terms of how we handled ourselves and the setbacks in that competition. Despite losing to England, I believe we played well. Although we put up a good fight against Australia, we were defeated in the penalty shootout. Coming back after those setbacks, in my opinion, proves that we are definitely moving in the right direction as a team and that we are adopting the mindset I want to see.
Can we move on as a team? I believe this competition in December, the Nations Cup, will demonstrate that. Can we maintain this attitude, our unity, and our fighting spirit? Can we all work to improve as individuals? To move forward, I am considering each player individually. To actually see that, I’ll be concentrating heavily on that.
What is Rani’s ongoing absence from the Indian team due to?
I never make specific comments about any one player, except occasionally in press releases. There are 33 players in the camp right now. Following this summer, we held a selection camp, and at the moment, I am pleased with the group. The group has a lot of rivalry. Since I started watching two months ago, there have been selection processes. I have determined after looking at them with my staff that these 20 players will provide us and India with the best chance for success. That is the way I see it.
But if you speak to Rani alone, she can tell you the reasons why she wasn’t chosen. I am aware of her dedication to the programme, her tireless efforts, and her desire to rejoin the team.
When choosing the team for the Nations Cup, was Rani’s performance at the National Games taken into account?
Yes. I attended the National Games, as you are aware. At the National Games, I watched every participant who is also a member of the senior (Indian) team compete. It’s not like I didn’t consider their performance, then. The selection camp, the National Games for three weeks, and then the camp in Bengaluru are all involved. Thus, the performance at the National Games has undoubtedly been witnessed.
A rift or division within the team has been mentioned in some social media posts. Is that statement accurate?
I don’t use social media very much. I have no idea how or where people have heard about this, so I was very happy with how we performed and how well we worked as a team last summer. In the past two months, I have not noticed a decline. We are currently a strong team and unit, in my opinion. People desire success and a challenging work environment. Therefore, I’m actually quite happy. Although you don’t always get all the information as a coach, I believe I have a strong relationship with the team’s players. I would be informed if there was a problem as a result.