Ritu rested, Deepika to lead Indian women hockey side at Hawke’s Bay Cup

New Delhi, March 17 (IANS) Hockey India (HI) on Thursday decided to rest captain Ritu Rani for the eight-nation Hawke’s Bay Cup to be held in New Zealand from April 2-10 as it announced the women’s squad to be led by defender Deepika.

Ace midfielder Ritu, leading the side since 2012, is currently part of the national camp in the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru. But she will not travel with the 18-member squad to Hasting, New Zealand in order to be in perfect shape in the Olympic year.

“There are no injury issues with her (Ritu). She is training with us. She has been rested,” senior forward Poonam Rani told IANS.

In place of Ritu, seasoned Deepika has been assigned the responsibility of captaining the side. P. Sushila Chanu will be her deputy.

“It’s an important tournament for us especially in an Olympic year. A good performance in New Zealand will definitely boost our confidence. The team has players with enough talent and skills to get the better of some of the higher ranked teams in our pool,” said Deepika.

India, currently ranked 13th according to the latest world rankings have been grouped in Pool B with New Zealand (4th), China (5th) and Ireland (15th). Apart from India, both New Zealand and China have also qualified for the Olympics.

Pool A consists of Australia, Korea, Japan and Canada. The pool league matches will determine the seeding for the quarter-finals with all eight teams proceeding to the knock-out stage.

The challenge for the Indian team would be to improve upon their last year’s seventh place finish. India will take on the formidable hosts in their opening encounter on April 2, before going up against Ireland on April 3 and China on April 5.

Training under the vigilant eyes of chief coach Neil Hawgood, the Indian eves will be aiming to put up an improved show in the tournament and further fuel their spirit ahead of the most crucial 2016 Rio Olympics.

“The Hawke’s Bay Cup will give the team a useful competition exposure. We will be trying out some new combinations and strategies,” Hawgood said.

“It’s also a good opportunity to test the bench strength. Our preparations have been good and we are hoping for a good performance in New Zealand,” the Australian coach, who is in his second stint with the side, added.

The squad:

Goalkeepers: Savita, Rajani Etimarpu

Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka, Deepika (captain), Sunita Lakra, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam (vice captain), H. Lalruatfeli, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan.

Midfielders: Lilima Minz, Navjot Kaur, Monika, Preeti Dubey.

Forwards: Rani Rampal, Poonam Rani, Vandana Kataria, Anuradha Devi Thokchom, Sonika.

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