Vandana returns as Indian women eye fresh start in FIH Pro League


New Delhi: Smarting from the failure to make the Paris Olympics, a Savita Punia-led 24-member Indian women’s hockey team will look to make a fresh start in the upcoming FIH Pro League matches.

Savita will be assisted by Vandana Katariya, who returned to the side as vice-captain after recovering from a cheekbone fracture, which forced the senior striker to miss the Olympic Qualifiers in Ranchi earlier this month.

The Indian team endured a disappointing outing in Ranchi and failed to qualify for the Olympics after having made the cut in the last two editions.

In fact, in the last edition at Tokyo, the Indians finished a creditable fourth.

The Bhubaneswar leg of the Pro League will begin on February 3 and end on February 9, while the Rourkela leg will commence on February 12 and last till February 18.

India will take on the United States, the Netherlands, China, and Australia twice each across both legs.

The Indian women will begin their campaign against reigning Asian Games champions China on February 3.

The team might have failed to make the Olympics but the Hockey India selectors decided to stuck to the core group that played in Ranchi while adding six more players — both junior and seniors — to strengthen the squad.

Drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur, who was missed in Ranchi, and young Jyoti Chhatri are the two additions in the Indian backline, which also has Nikki Pradhan, Udita, Ishika Chaudhary and Monika.

The goalkeeping duties will be done by Savita and Bichu Devi Kharibam.

Sunelita Toppo is a new face in the midfield comprising Nisha, Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Salima Tete, Sonika, Jyoti, and Baljeet Kaur.

The experienced Vandana and Sharmila Devi’s return will bolster the Indian attack.

Young Mumtaz Khan is a new face in the Indian forwardline, which also features Beauty Dungdung, Lalremsiami, Sangita Kumari, and Deepika, who were part of the team in Ranchi.

“We have a few youngsters coming in for the FIH Pro League 2023-24. The league is of immense importance to us as the champions will secure their spot in the FIH Hockey World Cup 2026,” Indian women’s team chief coach Janneke Schopman said.

“We will look to build upon the team chemistry and the squad is looking forward to facing some of the best teams in the world, in our backyard. The aim will be to begin our campaign on a strong note and continue to improve during the League.”

Indian women’s hockey team:

Goalkeepers: Savita (C), Bichu Devi Kharibam.

Defenders: Gurjit Kaur, Nikki Pradhan, Udita, Ishika Chaudhary, Monika, Jyoti Chhatri.

Midfielders: Nisha, Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Salima Tete, Sonika, Jyoti, Baljeet Kaur, Sunelita Toppo.

Forwards: Mumtaz Khan, Beauty Dungdung, Lalremsiami, Sangita Kumari, Deepika, Vandana Katariya (VC), Sharmila Devi.

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