Indian women's hockey team

New Delhi, July 12 (IANS) 

Seasoned midfielder and long-time skipper Ritu Rani was dropped from the Indian women’s hockey squad for the Rio Olympics next month and defender P. Sushila Chanu named the captain on Tuesday.

Ritu has been an important member of the national team over the years and led them to their first Olympic qualification in 36 years. But she left the national camp last week following allegations of poor performance and attitude problems from Hockey India (HI) officials.

Sushila, 24, had captained the Indian team in Ritu’s absence during their tour of Australia earlier this year. She also led the Indian junior women’s team to a bronze medal finish at the 2013 Junior World Cup in Mönchengladbach, Germany under the coaching of present chief coach Neil Hawgood.

Ritu has been one of the key midfielders for India over the years and her absence could hurt the team’s chances at the Olympics. She made her India debut in 2006 and has notched up 213 international caps.

Ritu has represented the country in almost every tournament and every national camp since her international debut and the Rio Olympics will be the first major tournament that she will miss out on.

“The girls have worked day in and day out to get where they are today and we are excited as a team to convert whatever we have worked on during the camps.” chief coach Neil Hawgood said.

While the Australian coach denied speaking on the controversial ouster of 24-year-old Ritu, Hockey India selection committee member Harbinder Singh also maintained a silence on the issue.

“This is the best squad we have found. All the players deserve their place,” Harbinder told IANS. When prodded further, Harbinder said: “All these players have been selected keeping in mind their form, performance and the interest of the team.”

At the Rio Olympics, the Indian women’s team has been placed in Group B alongside Champions Trophy winners Argentina, Australia, Britain, Japan and the United States.

“It is a big moment for the girls. Our group is the tougher among the two. Our realistic goal is to qualify for the quarter-finals and I believe we can do it,” Hawgood said.

Hawgood’s squad included many members of the 2013 Junior World Cup bronze medal-winning side.

Sushila, vice-captain Deepika, Deep Grace Ekka and Namita Toppo form a strong defensive line but the midfield of Navjot Kaur, Monika, Renuka Yadav, Lilima Minz, Nikki Pradhan and Monika lack experience. That’s why Ritu’s absence may be felt at the centre of the pitch.

The attacking line does have some experience with the likes of Poonam Rani, Rani Rampal and Vandana Katariya having spent a lot of time together.

“This group was successful during their juniors’ days but this is a big test for them. All of them are first-time Olympians and they will come across the players who have played the Olympics twice or thrice,” Hawgood, who is in his second stint with the women’s team.

“They will obviously more experience in the next one and the generation change in the other teams will also happen. So it will take time for these juniors to be successful at the senior stage, albeit it is not easy.”

The squad:

Goalkeeper: Savita

Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka, Deepika (vice-captain), Namita Toppo, Sunita Lakra (defender), P. Sushila Chanu (captain).

Midfielders: Navjot Kaur, Monika, Renuka Yadav, Lilima Minz.

Forwards: Anuradha Devi, Poonam Rani, Vandana Kataria, Rani Rampal, Preeti Dubey,

On standby: Rajani Etimarpu, H. Lalruat Feli.

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    The IANS was founded by Indian American publisher Gopal Raju as the India Abroad News Service. It was later renamed the Indo-Asian News Service.

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