GOLD COAST: India's women's hockey team captain Rani Rampal has vowed to end the side's 12-year medal drought at the Commonwealth Games as the Asian champions begin their campaign here with a group stage clash against Wales on Thursday.
The women's outfit last won the CWG gold in 2002 followed by a silver medal in 2006. But in the last few years, the team has achieved couple of of firsts -- qualifying for the 2016 Olympics and winning the Asia Cup in November last year.
"We are here to finish on the podium and nothing less," expressed Rani in an official release on Wednesday.
"We have worked in the past two months at the national camp with a sole purpose of doing well against European and Oceanic teams. Our focus on improving strength and agility was mainly to stay up to speed when we play against a quality team like England and we are looking forward to that match specifically to see where we stand," Rani said.
But to reach the podium, the World No.10 team needs to get past initial hurdle in Pool A which has Wales, Malaysia, England and South Africa. "It is a challenging Pool but I believe we can surmount to the next stage," asserted chief coach Harendra Singh.
"I am happy with the way they played in the practice matches where we beat Queensland 5-0 and lost 1-3 to Canada. Though against Canada we could have started the first quarter better, I am sure the girls will apply everything we have learnt in the last two camps in match situation," Harendra stated.
Vice captain Savita will start in goal. Rajani Etimarpu is the reserve goalkeeper while the defence is packed with experience and grit in the form of Deepika, Sunita Lakra, Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur and Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam.
Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal and Lilima Minz will form the midfield while Rani, Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur and Poonam Rani will form India's attack.
With a good one week spent at the competition arena, the team is looking to start with a win on Thursday. Though India have excelled in the past against Wales, Rani says the team will not rely on past results.
"Every tournament is like a new chapter, any team can come up as winners and we cannot take an opponent lightly going by previous results," she said after putting in 45 minutes of grind with the team going about drills in attack and defending penalty corners on Wednesday afternoon.
Their second match on April 6 is against a lower ranked Malaysia who are No.22 in the World. But it is their third match against Olympic Champions England on April 8 that will put this team to Test. England are undoubtedly strong contenders for the gold and to do well against them will be a big motivation for the team.
"We are focused on our team goals and don't want to think about previous matches. We have a fresh outlook, we want to play to our strength and not focus on what the other team's strategies are," she said.
"We have had good training sessions here over the past week, the mood is upbeat among the team and we are ready for the challenge."
The Indian women's hockey squad:
Goalkeepers: Savita (vice-captain), Rajani Etimarpu.
Defenders: Deepika, Sunita Lakra, Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjit Kaur, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam.
Midfielders: Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal, Lilima Minz.
Forwards: Rani (captain), Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur, Poonam Rani.