India’s junior girls hockey team recently created history by handing the country its first ever medal, a bronze, at the World Cup that concluded at Monchengladbach, Germany, earlier this month. While most members of the team are yet to get used to the unheard limelight their achievement created, for striker Rani Rampal, the accolades form an all too familiar story. India outplayed England 3-2 in via penalty shootout in the bronze medal play-off match. Rani scored six goals in the event including one in regulation time in the play-off tie as well as two later in the penalty shootout.
For Rani, the 18-year-old girl next door from Shahbad, a town near Ambala known for relentlessly churning out top class women’s hockey players, the bronze-winning feat is a long due achievement that truly complements her prodigious talent. Infact she has more reasons to cheer for after being adjudged Player of the Tournament for her dazzling performance through out the tournament. For those who aren’t yet familiar with this skillful forward, it would certainly come as a surprise that this teenager has aready donned the senior India jersey 97 times after becoming the youngest debutant for the national team at 14!
Rani started holding the hockey stick at the tender age of eight and soon caught the attention of former national coach and Dronacharya awardee Baldev Singh, who shaped her skills to perfection. When asked about his promising student three years back, Baldev had remarked, ‘She is a wonder girl with immense talent. She would play a pivotal role in reviving the lost glory of the game.’ Today he would be happy to see Rani confirming his statement with great aplomb. Rani also holds her coach in very high respect. ‘I owe everything to him. He gave me a hockey stick and kit as my family could not afford it. He wanted someone like me, who is from a low-income background, to make a name in the sport, and he trained me at the Shahbad Hockey Academy,’ she had said.
When Rani, who hails from a modest background, started playing hockey, her family couldn’t even afford to buy her a stick. Her father was a daily wage cart-puller while her elder brother worked as shop assistant. Ten years down the line, the family now takes their daughter’s name with great pride. After all, Rani is the only player from India whose name figures in International Hockey Federation’s World All-Star Team as well as Asian Hockey Federation’s All-Star team.
Talking about India’s splendid achievements, the shy 18-year-old spoke like a matured pro: ‘It is the biggest win of my career because for us it is equivalent to World Cup. We have never qualified for the Olympics so this win has huge significance for Indian women’s hockey. This victory has proved that ‘hockey is still alive in India’.
Going by her sensational form, it won’t be surprising if Rani soon realises her dream to sport the India colour at the Olympic Games.