The Indian women’s team has been grouped with Germany, Ireland, South Africa, Netherlands and Britain in Pool A.
The 26-year old captain is the face of Indian women’s hockey, its seniormost player and also its most talismanic. Coming from the hockey nursery of Shahbad in Haryana and a student of Baldev Singh, the forward made her international debut at the age of 15 and has been an integral part of the national team since then. One of the few Indian women to cross the 200-cap mark, Rani’s understanding of the game situation, her ability to create opportunities and run past opposition defence, and her knack for perfect positioning make her vital to the team’s success in her second Olympics.
Since her international debut in 2009, Savita Punia has remained the last wall of the Indian defence – with distinction. Having bided her time in the presence of seniors like Helen Mary and Dipika Murthy, Savita is the oldest player in the team at 31, but also the most important. Playing continuously for 12 long years in a country where women players retire early is a testimony to not just her longevity, but also hard work that has kept her as the country’s No. 1 goalkeeper. She was largely responsible for India qualifying for both the Rio and Tokyo Olympics and has been part of the 2014 and 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games and 2013 and 2017 Asia Cup squads.
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Deep Grace Ekka
Another of the elite 200-international-matches club, Deep Grace Ekka represents all the qualities of players from the Sundergarh district of Odisha – a solid defender, clean and error-free technique, and a back-up penalty corner specialist when needed. The well-built Deep Grace has also been trained to double up as a substitute goalkeeper if necessary. She became the fastest Indian to reach the 200-cap mark in 2019, having made her international debut in 2011. A fun-loving person off the field and a key member of the team, the 27-year old will be participating in her second Olympics and will be crucial for India’s chances to advance at Tokyo.
The 27-year old will be hoping to build on her experiences in Rio in her second Olympics. The Jharkhand all-rounder is a relative latecomer, having made her debut only in 2016 and playing only 76 games, but since then she has made herself invaluable, being a part of all the major campaigns including the Olympic qualifiers. She can also up the ante when most needed, and can switch positions across the field, defending at the back and creating gaps in the middle, making her vital to the team.
Another latecomer to the side, making her debut only at the age of 22 in a team where players normally slip out in their late 20s, Gurjit is the team’s primary drag-flicker and goalscorer. The Punjab defender was part of the national camp for three long years before finally making her debut in 2017 in style, being the top scorer while winning the Asia Cup. Having worked hard on her fitness to lose fat and build strength, the 25-year old has also developed into a consistent and reliable scorer with enough variations and is expected to be India’s trump card in Tokyo.
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Having led the Indian under-18 team at the 2016 AHF Cup, Udita was fast-tracked into the senior side the next year and played her first international match the same year against New Zealand. A member of the 2018 World Cup and Asian Games teams, Udita started as a forward and continues to play upfront, but also can play at the back, where again she has excelled. The 23-year old will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo.
A resident of Sonepat, Nisha is one of three students from the academy of former hockey great Pritam Siwach. She is also one of the youngsters making her Olympic debut in Tokyo. Having quit playing at one point only to come back at her coach’s insistence, the 26-year old is considered an intelligent playmaker in the middle, and despite her limited international experience – having made her debut only in 2019 at the FIH Women’s Series finals in Hiroshima – she is a key member. She is also the first Muslim player since Saba Anjum to play for the national side.
Another of Pritam Siwach’s proteges, Neha has come a long way since her junior national days. The 24-year-old midfielder from Sonepat made it to the national team in 2014 through open selection trials and made her debut at the Champions Challenge but missed out on the Rio Olympics. Since then, she has been part of the 2017 Asia Cup, the 2018 World Cup, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. Short but powerful, Goyal’s biggest strength is her speed and ability to weave past opponents with excellent ball control and her ability to find gaps.
Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam
Captain at the Rio Olympics, the 29-year-old Sushila is one of the more experienced players in the side and will be key to India’s fortunes in Tokyo. The midfielder from Manipur with explosive speed is capable of scoring from acute angles inside the circle. A part of the team’s leadership group, Sushila is a natural talent and was captain of the side that won India’s first-ever bronze at the Junior World Cup in 2013. She made the senior side a year later. Injuries kept her away for a long time after Rio before she made her return in 2019, and has remained crucial since then.
Another talented midfielder-striker from Haryana, Monika made her debut in 2013. The Indian Railways employee excels in running down the sidelines and providing the ball for the forwards with precision and is valued as a playmaker. She is also talented at getting out of tricky corners without committing a foul. With Asian Games bronze in 2014 and silver in 2018 and the experience of the Rio Olympics behind her – and being part of the 2013 Junior World Cup squad with the likes of Sushila and Rani – the team will be relying on the 27-year-old Monika to get it out of crunch situations in Tokyo.
Another product of the famed Shahbad Academy in Haryana, midfielder Navjot Kaur is among the more experienced players in the side with over 100 international games under her belt. A member of the Indian side at the Rio Olympics, she will be hoping to build on that experience in Tokyo. She made her senior debut against New Zealand in 2012 while part of the junior side as well at the 2013 Junior World Cup. It is a credit to the consistency of both the players and the team management that seven from that 2013 junior side are now part of the Tokyo Olympics, having played together for so long at all major tournaments over years.
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At 19, Salima is the youngest member of the side and led the team to silver at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. One of the two players from Jharkhand in the side, the other being Nikki, the midfielder was already part of the senior probables but became a permanent member only after impressing at the Youth Olympics and during the 2019 Europe tour. Salima came up the ranks through age-group tournaments. She played in the under-21 Valencia Five-Nation and under-18 AHF Cup in 2016 through the under-21, under-23 and India A sides before earning her stripes with the senior team. Despite her age, the experience of many international outings through major age-group competitions will help her under pressure in Tokyo.
The 25-year old will be one of eight Olympic debutants in Tokyo. The forward, noticeable on the field for her striking white headband, made her debut in 2012 along with Navjot. The two have managed to develop a great understanding since then. Also part of the 2013 Junior World Cup and the 2018 Asian Games, Navneet is known for her one-touch shots at the goal and her ability to find the right position at the right time to counter the goalkeeper. Her solo runs are her trademark when left without support upfront.
The 21-year old from Mizoram is a forward often spoken of as the successor to Rani Rampal. A member of the 2016 under-18 Asia Cup and 2018 Youth Olympic Games squads, she made her senior debut at the 2017 Asia Cup and impressed all with her speed. A product of the National Hockey Academy in Delhi, Lalreamsiami became the first Mizo player to win an Asian Games medal in 2018. Having battled the language barrier and cultural shocks, the talented striker is now one of the key members of the side. Her ability to outrun any opponent, wrong-foot the defence and shoot with a power that belies her size made her the FIH Rising Star of the Year 2020.
Making her debut in 2009, the Haridwar-born Vandana has been key to most of India’s scoring chances and goals in the last decade. As a senior player, the 29-year-old forward has over the last few years taken a step back into being a playmaker for the younger players upfront, but her own ability to find the net from impossible angles and beat the goalkeeper remains second to none. Vandana was the team’s top scorer at the 2013 Junior World Cup and has been the vital cog in the team’s triumphs over years since then. She has been part of every major competition – the World Cup in 2018, the Asian Games in 2014 and 2018, the 2013 and 2017 Asia Cup, the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games and the Rio Olympics in 2016 – and along with Rani, will be key to all of India’s scoring chances in Tokyo.
The third of Pritam’s students, Sharmila has emulated her idol as a forward and is the second-youngest player in the squad. At 19, she will be one of the eight Olympic debutants in Tokyo. Since making her senior debut at the 2019 Olympic Test Event in Tokyo, she has remained in the side, playing an important role in the Olympic Qualifiers against the USA to book a ticket for Tokyo.