Change is in the air for the Indian women’s hockey team. A disastrous few months saw them fail to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics, and the result led to the departure of coach Janneke Schopman.

But not before the Dutchwoman slammed Hockey India for what she alleged to be unfair treatment meted out to the women’s team. Soon after, Hockey India CEO Elena Norman also stepped down from her role citing unpaid dues and a difficult work environment.

With no Olympics to prepare for and the next major tournaments, including the FIH World Cup and the Asian Games, taking place in 2026, it is an opportune time for India to build a new team with a young core.

The upcoming FIH Pro League matches in Belgium and England will mark a new era in Indian women’s hockey. India will play Belgium and Argentina twice each in Antwerp before playing Great Britain and Germany twice each in London.

Unlike India, their four opponents will be using the Pro League matches to finetune their preparations for the Olympics. India will still have a lot to fight for, including avoiding relegation from the Pro League.

Tete takes over; Harendra back as coach

The major change in the post-Schopman era is Savita Punia stepping down as captain. The three-time reigning FIH Goalkeeper of the Year has been replaced by Salima Tete.

One of India’s best players over the past year, Tete’s elevation is the first step for the team to build upon the work done by Schopman. The 2023 Hockey India Women’s Player of the Year flourished under Schopman, who developed Tete from a pacy dribbler to the lynchpin of the attack.

Still only 22, Tete is the perfect player for India to build their young squad around for the coming years.

India will have a couple of new faces in Europe with midfielder Manisha Chauhan and forward Deepika Soreng in line to make their senior team debuts. Also making the cut are defender Mahima Chaudhary, who will add to her solitary India cap, and forward Preeti Dubey.

Chaudhary and Soreng were part of the Indian team which won silver in the inaugural FIH Hockey5s World Cup in Oman earlier this year.

Dubey, 25, is making a comeback to the Indian team having last played for the country back in 2017.

Hockey: Salima Tete 2.0 – a speedster who is adding confidence and creativity to her improving game

The task of building upon the work done by Schopman has fallen on Harendra Singh. With Hockey India chief Dilip Tirkey contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Odisha, the model code of conduct has prevented Hockey India from officially announcing Singh’s appointment as coach.

However, Singh has been instrumental in naming the squad for the Pro League matches and will travel to Europe. Singh was in charge of the team in 2017 and led them to the 2017 Asia Cup title. However, just seven months after taking charge of the women’s team, Singh was appointed as the men’s team coach with Sjoerd Marijne going the other way.

With no Olympic Games to look forward to, Singh will have time to implement his vision on a young and impressionable side.

Pro League future on the line

India are the only team in the Pro League who will not be competing at the Paris Olympics. But that does not mean India have nothing to play for in Europe. With only two wins and a draw in the eight matches so far, India are in danger of finishing last and being relegated from the Pro League.

The Pro League guarantees teams 16 matches against quality opposition every year. India struggled to get teams to play against them in the run up to the Asian Games last year. In contrast, China were better prepared for the Games having featured in the Pro League last season.

For the team to progress, regularly playing against the likes of the Netherlands, Argentina and Germany is imperative.

India are currently sixth in the standings ahead of Great Britain, USA and Belgium. However, both GB and Belgium have only played four matches so far and will be expected to climb up the standings in their respective home legs.

Argentina and Germany, ranked second and third respectively, will pose a tough challenge for India. India’s best hopes of securing a win or eking out a draw will likely come against Belgium and Great Britain.

Indian squad for European leg of Pro League 

Goalkeepers: Savita Punia, Bichu Devi Kharibam

Defenders: Nikki Pradhan, Udita Duhan, Ishika Chaudhary, Monika, Jyoti Chhatri, Mahima Chaudhary

Midfielders: Salima Tete (Captain), Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke, Navneet Kaur (Vice captain), Neha Goyal, Jyoti, Baljeet Kaur, Manisha Chauhan, Lalremsiami

Forwards: Mumtaz Khan, Sangita Kumari, Deepika, Sharmila Devi, Preeti Dubey, Vandana Katariya, Sunelita Toppo, Deepika Soreng

India’s schedule

May 22: vs Argentina at 3.45pm IST in Antwerp

May 23: vs Belgium at 10.15pm IST in Antwerp

May 25: vs Belgium at 5.30pm IST in Antwerp

May 26: vs Argentina at 3.15pm IST in Antwerp

June 1: vs Germany at 9.45pm IST in London

June 2: vs Great Britain at 7.00pm IST in London

June 8: vs Germany at 2.30pm IST in London

June 9: vs Great Britain at 4.45pm IST in London