The last two meetings between India and Australia women’s hockey teams have been classics. Matches that will be talked about years down the line by fans of both sides. The first, when India stunned the Hockeyroos in the quarterfinal at the Tokyo Olympics. A 1-0 win of epic proportions for the team in blue, one that was followed by a couple of heartbreaks leading to an ultimately famous fourth placed finish. The second, when India produced a gritty attacking display to equalise late against the Aussies, only for a faulty clock before the penalty shootout to spoil their chances of reaching the final at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

Both were matches of incredible drama, intensity and quality hockey. And starting Thursday in Adelaide, the two teams would be hoping to push each other in a similar manner as they play a Test series albeit with much smaller stakes.

India captain and coach Savita Punia and Janneke Schopman with Australia coach Katrina Powell and captain Jane Claxton \ Hockey Australia

India will play a total five matches from May 18-27 at the MATE Stadium in Adelaide. The last two will be against Australia A. The tour is part of the Indian team’s preparations for the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games 2023, which will take place in September-October this year.

The Indian team, which will once again be led by Savita Punia, open their tour with a match against Australia on the 18 May before playing back-to-back games on the 20 and 21 May. The visitors will then compete against Australia A on 25 and 27 May.

The Australian women’s team are currently ranked third in the world, while India are ranked eighth.

Interview: India hockey coach Janneke Schopman on Australia tour, preparing for Asian Games and more

India left for Adelaide on 14 May and have been training there to get acclimatized to the conditions in Australia. “We are training everyday and even under the lights so that the team get used to the field and circumstances in Adelaide as our matches are scheduled to take place in the evening,” Savita told Hockey India.

Speaking about the recent match-ups Savita added, “India and Australia have enjoyed a healthy rivalry over the past few years. We beat them at the Tokyo Olympics and they beat us during the Birmingham Commonwealth Games last year. Playing against a quality side like theirs is always a learning experience and we are quite upbeat ahead of this tour.”

There are not too many surprises in India’s squad. Rani Rampal had travelled with the team to South Africa earlier this year, prompting a possible recall into the main squad for the big-ticket events. But that hasn’t transpired and she wasn’t even part of the camp recently from which the final squad was picked.

Savita will be assisted by Deep Grace Ekka as the vice captain. Bichu Devi Kharibam is the second goalkeeper named in the squad with defenders Deep, Nikki Pradhan, Ishika Chaudhary, Udita and Gurjit Kaur. Midfielders include Nisha, Navjot Kaur, Monika, Salima Tete, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Sonika, Jyoti, and Baljeet Kaur.

India’s forward line will be spearheaded by the seasoned striker Vandana Katariya. She will be joined by Lalremsiami, Sangita Kumari and Sharmila Devi.

Indian team:

Goalkeepers: Savita (C), Bichu Devi Kharibam

Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka (VC), Nikki Pradhan, Ishika Chaudhary, Udita, Gurjit Kaur

Midfielders: Nisha, Navjot Kaur, Monika, Salima Tete, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Sonika, Jyoti, Baljeet Kaur

Forwards: Lalremsiami, Vandana Katariya, Sangita Kumari, Sharmila Devi

Hockey: Vandana Katariya interview – ‘As long as you learn from mistakes, pressure makes you better’

In an interview with Scroll, coach Schopman had this say about the matches in Australia:

I think Australia has a good team that likes to play with a lot of speed. So for us that’s again good because you know you can train only so much.

Like I said, we focused a lot on can we accelerate our own play? Can we break the shape or the structure that these defensive teams typically have? It’s hard to get in the circle these days against teams that defend well. For me, it’s a perfect tool to see as a team those themes we used in training, can they get translated into this game?

And secondly, for me, it is so very important to see where the players are individually. So are they ready for the next couple of months because like I said, it’s pretty competitive currently in our team. So it’s not so easy to say that these 16 or 18 are already set for the Asian Games and they’re all fighting for their spot and that makes it also interesting.

Australia will show us again our strengths, probably also our weaknesses. Like our penalty corner and how we can get some information from this Australia tour about where we are. We had Rupinder Pal Singh come in to work with our drag flickers two weeks ago which was very good for us. You kind of put the right people in the right positions and then it will be fine tuning and then we’ll progress and say, ‘Ok, we need to focus more on our defense, maybe more on transition.’

Without Pro League matches till the next season (India won the Nations League to qualify for the 2023-’24 edition), India have resorted to training blocks and away tours. So the importance of these five matches cannot be underestimated for India’s preparation for the Asian Games.

“We believe this tour will help us understand the level we are at and help us analyze what we need to change or work on in our tactical play ahead of the Asian Games,” Savita said. “And of course, when you do well against a team like Australia it boosts the morale and confidence of the team particularly some of the youngsters who have got a call-up for this tour.”

As for the Hockeyroos, head coach Katrina Powell is set to hand debuts to five players in this series and as many as eight players in the squad have 20 international caps or less, as per Hockey Australia.

“It’s a relatively new group so we’re trying to merge them together and get them playing well come tomorrow night and then hitting their stride by the third game on Sunday,” said Powell.

“We are expecting a really tough series. There have been some big clashes against India of late so there is some ascendancy that we are both trying to get over the other…this week we’re hoping it is going to be us. India is a skilful and determined team. Technically, tactically and physically they are really strong so it’s going to be a great challenge.”

India tour of Australia schedule (as per Hockey Australia):
May 18, Thursday: India vs Australia at 14:45 IST
May 20, Saturday: India vs Australia at 14:45 IST
May 21, Sunday: India vs Australia at 14:15 IST
May 25, Thursday: India vs Australia A 
May 27, Saturday: India vs Australia A