Rani Rampal is set to make a comeback to the Indian women’s hockey team during their the upcoming tour of South Africa, set to begin on January 16 in Cape Town. Rani was included in the 22-member squad that was announced on Thursday by Hockey India.

On the tour, India, who recently won the inaugural edition of the FIH Women’s Nations Cup 2022 in Valencia, will play four matches against South Africa, and three matches against the World Champions Netherlands from January 16 to January 28.

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Goalkeeper Savita Punia has been named the captain for the tour with experienced campaigner Navneet Kaur as the vice-captain of the team. Defender Deep Grace Ekka, who was the vice-captain during Nations Cup, is absent from the squad who, we understand, has been rested. Senior midfielder Navjot Kaur also hasn’t been named in the squad.

Rani will be making a return to the squad for the first time since she played against Belgium in the FIH Women’s Hockey Pro League 2021-22, where she won her 250th cap for India on comeback after the Tokyo Olympics. She had been dealing with a injury since Tokyo and was subsequently left out of the World Cup and Commonwealth Games 2022 squads, with head coach Janneke Schopman citing that the star Indian forward was still getting to peak fitness during her rehab.

Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke, who led the Indian women’s junior team at the Uniphar U23 5-Nations Tournament 2022 in May, has received her first call-up for the senior team.

The team includes Bichu Devi Kharibam in the squad along with Savita as goalkeepers while Nikki Pradhan, Ishika Chaudhary, Udita, and Gurjit Kaur have been named as the defenders in the team.

Apart from Vaishnavi, the midfield will feature Nisha, Salima Tete, Sushila Chanu, Monika, Neha Goyal, and Sonika. There is also Baljeet Kaur, who will be returning to the squad since making her senior debut in the 2021-22 Pro League match against Belgium.

Apart from Rani and Navneet, the forward line includes the experienced Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Sangita Kumari, Beauty Dungdung, Reena Khokhar, and Sharmila Devi.

Sharmila too is making a comeback after missing out in the squad for the Nations Cup.

Speaking on the tour, Schopman said, “The South Africa tour is a brilliant opportunity for us to build on our performance of the Nations Cup. Playing both South Africa as well as the Netherlands on this tour provides us with everything we need to learn about ourselves come the Asian Games.

“Playing the World No 1 Netherlands will most likely expose our vulnerabilities and will also show where we are with our performance and growth. Playing South Africa, where we most likely will have more of the ball, will give us the opportunity to improve in ball possession areas,” she added.

Indian women’s hockey team squad for South Africa tour:

Goalkeepers: Savita Punia (Captain), Bichu Devi Kharibam

Defenders: Nikki Pradhan, Udita, Ishika Chaudhary, Gurjit Kaur

Midfielders: Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke, Sushila Chanu, Nisha, Salima Tete, Monika, Neha Goyal, Sonika, Baljeet Kaur

Forwards: Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur (Vice-Captain), Vandana Katariya, Sangita Kumari, Beauty Dungdung, Rani Rampal, Reena Khokhar, Sharmila Devi

Schedule of the Indian Women’s Hockey Team on Tour of South Africa (All matches will begin at 1830 hrs IST):

16th January 2023: South Africa vs India

17th January 2023: South Africa vs India

19th January 2023: South Africa vs India

21st January 2023: South Africa vs India

22nd January 2023: Netherlands vs India

27th January 2023: Netherlands vs India

28th January 2023: Netherlands vs India