Poonam Rani lends a calming influence to the Indian women hockey team’s forward line. The 23-year-old crafty forward, who plays alongside precocious talents like Rani Rampal and Vandana Katariya, forms a pretty efficient striking force for the country.
The Hisar girl, who made her senior international debut in a Four -Nation Tourney in Netherlands in 2008, rates the Olympic qualifying event in Belgium the biggest moment of her career. Employed with the Railways, Poonam talks about the importance of regularly playing top teams and India’s aspirations at the 2016 Rio Olympics in an exclusive interview.
Q: Having qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics after a hiatus of thirty-six years, how is the road ahead for the national women’s team as far as preparations for the Olympics is concerned?
A: The morale of the girls is quite high knowing that we will play in the Olympics after such a long time. Every player dreams of playing in the Olympics. Our national preparatory camp is on in Bhubaneswar (it started on October 1) and the camp will run till October-end. As for now, we don’t know what lies ahead in terms of international competitions and we are focused on doing well in the camp and take it from there.
Q You made your senior international debut in a Four-Nation Tourney in Netherlands in 2008 against the hosts. What memories do you have of that debut game?
A: Well, I had just made it to the senior team from the junior ranks after having made my junior India debut a year earlier. As a forward I did not score any goals as we lost to the Dutch 0-6. Debut match is always special for a player and I’m no different.
Q You have been around in the Indian senior team since your debut as a sixteen-year-old – you have featured in the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, 2010 World Cup as well as the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games besides a slew of other high-profile events. Which has been your most satisfying moment as a player so far?
A: Without a doubt the Hockey World League Semifinal Round in Belgium where we pipped Japan 1-0 to make the Olympic cut. Of course, I was part of the national team that won the bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games, as well as a silver medal in the 2013 Asian Champions Trophy besides a bronze in the 2013 Asia Cup but qualifying for the Olympics has to be my best moment.
Q Indian women’s hockey team have shown marked improvement in the last few years – the team have started to hold their own against the top teams – 0-0 draw against mighty Australia in the 2015 Hawke’s Bay Cup in New Zealand and narrow losses to China and USA in that event are striking examples. Your thoughts.
A: There is no doubt that we have improved as a team over the last few years – our girls have been playing together for a long while and that has helped. We opted for half press against Australia and it worked out well for us as they were not able to play their natural game. We have beaten higher ranked Japan thrice in last three meetings at the 2014 Asian Games (2-1) and Hawke’s Bay Cup (3-2) apart from our historic win in Belgium. We have also beaten China 4-2 in the 2013 Asia Cup – so things are indeed looking up.
Q: How important is it to play higher ranked teams regularly?
A: It is very crucial for us to play higher ranked teams on a regular basis. The improvement levels go up by several notches when you play top teams but when we play lower ranked sides we don’t gain much as the lesser sides benefit. We need to play teams like Australia, Argentina, Netherlands, New Zealand and Great Britain more often as it will help us immensely.
Q: There are not enough jobs being doled out for women hockey players in India. Railways is the only entity employing women hockey players.
A: I wish women hockey players get jobs like our men get from BPCL, IOC, IOB etc and not just Railways. Widening job avenues will boost women’s hockey in India. More than the jobs, women players must also be given better positions.
Q: India is ranked 13th in the world – where do you the team can go up to in next one year?
A: We are ranked 13th but have the potential to be number eight or nine though our head coach wants us to break into the top-six.
Q: What are your realistic expectations from the Indian team at the 2016 Rio Olympics?
A: I don’t care what people say, but I can tell you one thing that we will leave no stone unturned to make our country proud at Rio.Published 07 Oct 2015, 15:01 IST