Pune: It is no easy task being the national team captain at the age of 22. But Rani Rampal, captain of the country’s women’s hockey team, doesn’t seem to be intimidated by the task.
“2018 is a very important year for us because the Commonwealth Games, World Cup and the Asian Games are there. All three are major tournaments and come only once in four years, so even the players are keenly waiting for these events,” she says at the sidelines of the National Five-a-Side Senior National Championship 2017 in Pune.
This is the captain of a team that defied the odds to win the Asian Cup less than a month back. One would think she can afford a smile and bask in the glory a little bit. But Rani is back to doing what she loves doing most: Playing hockey. Only this time, a radical five-a-side mixed team format — where men and women play together in one team. “When you play with your male counterparts, you play hard and you improve your strength,” reasons Rani.
Perhaps her hard approach comes from her upbringing and a desperate need to be successful. “I want to work hard and help my family settle. I want to improve their condition and I can only do that by putting hard work into my hockey,” she says.
Growing up was tough for Rani who comes from a poor background. Her father was a horse-cart driver in Shahabad Markanda, a small town in the Kurukshetra district of Haryana. But money was only a part of the problem. “When I told my family that I wanted to play, my relatives and neighbours got to know (about my interest), and they said to my parents that I’ll bring a bad name to the house if they send me outside the house. I was too young to mentally handle all these,” remembers Rani.
While she admits economically it was a challenge to stick to hockey, she is quick to point out how senior players in the team and her coaches were a constant source of support. “It was very difficult financially to afford kits and shoes. But my seniors and my coach helped me a lot,” she says.
The tough hockey education made Rani competitive at a very young age. Perhaps, it is this quality, a never-say-die spirit coupled with the exuberance of the youth, that convinced the Hockey India decision-makers to bestow the captainship on her in 2017.
The forward played a key role as a leader and a player in India’s Asian Cup victory, but Rani doesn’t want her team to get too carried away. “Till now we’ve just competed in the Asian level. If we have to compete in the world level then we have to put more hard work into our game and show more focus. We will do all these in the forthcoming national camps,” asserts Rani.
The Indian team will face tougher challenges in the upcoming season. But under coach Harendra Singh and Rani’s stewardship, the teams looks best equipped to weather the storm.