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Siwach makes a dream return

india Updated: Mar 17, 2008 23:11 IST

Siwach makes a dream return

(Sharad Deep from Lucknow)

FACED WITH their sternest test ever, the women’s hockey selectors have fallen back on experience for next month’s Olympic Qualifiers at Kazan, Russia. Pritam Rani Siwach, former India captain and member of the 1998 Asian Games silver medal-winning team, has made a dream comeback after being included in the 22-member preliminary squad for the event to be held from April 19 to 27.

Siwach is among the seven changes made to the team that lost the Asian Cup crown at Hong Kong last year. Goalkeeper Dipika Murthy, defenders Binita Toppo, Pushpa Pradhan, midfielder Gagandeep Kaur and forwards Adline Kerketta, Rani Devi are the other players who have been recalled.

The list, released after a two-day trial on Monday, would be pruned to 18 after a fitness camp that ends on April 8. The team will leave for Russia on April 10.

Chief coach MK Kaushik was happy with the team but said it has a tough task ahead. “Certainly, there is pressure on the girls after the debacle of the men’s team. But I am not allowing the girls to feel any pressure as this is the time when they have to play with a positive frame of mind.”

India will open their campaign against Russia on April 19, before taking on the Netherlands Antilles on the following day. The women then take on Belgium on April 22, before locking horns with favourites USA on April 24.

They play their last match against France on April 26. Indian women have played only once in the Olympics, in 1980 when the sport made its debut in Moscow.

A balance of youth and experience

(Sharad Deep/Saurabh Duggal from Lucknow/Chandigarh)

PRITAM RANI Siwach is 34, a mother of two and a former India skipper who has been out of the national squad for six years. Rani Devi, 13, was three when Pritam captained India to an Asian Games silver in Bangkok in 1998. She has never played international hockey. On Monday, both cried after they were named in the 22-member squad for the women’s Olympic qualifiers next month.

While Siwach is the oldest player in this squad, Rani will be the youngest ever to claim the honour.

Siwach has always dreamed of playing the Olympics. But she was left out of the qualifiers for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. “It was really disappointing to be left out.

But I am now relieved after being short-listed today,” said Siwach.

In something that might seem familiar to cricket-crazy Indians debating the seniors versus juniors policy, Siwach was initially “rejected” because of her age. She then took up the issue with the federation and underwent a special fitness test to make it to the list of 32 probables.

An Arjuna Awardee, she was also a member of the Indian team that won gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Rani, in contrast, first made it to the Haryana team that won the National Games in February 2007.

The daughter of a labourer, this class nine student from Shahbad took to hockey four years ago and made her mark when she helped Haryana win gold in the under-17 Schools Nationals in Chandigarh. With 25 goals, she was the highest scorer of the tournament.

Her coach Baldev Singh is surprised by her meteoric rise. “Last year when I introduced Rani to Amrit Bose, the secretary of the Indian Women's Hockey Federation, I told her that she would be a part of the Indian team in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

“Even I didn't think that she'd make the cut this year itself,” said a happy Singh. For India, still smarting from the men's inability to make the Olympics for the first time ever, these spirited, enterprising women will bring hope and cheer.

The preliminary squad

Goal keepers:

Dipika Murthy, Marita Tirkey, Poonam Toppo.

Defenders: Binita Toppo, Suman Bala (vice-captain), Rajwinder Kaur,

Pushpa Pradhan.

Midfielders:

Subhadra Pradhan, Gagandeep Kaur, Rosalind Ralte, Asunta Lakra, Th Ranjita, Manorama Devi.

Forwards: Mamta Kharb (captain), Saba Anjum, Surinder Kaur, Jasjeet Kaur, Ritu Rani, Deepika Thakur, Adline Kerketta, Rani Devi, Pritam Rani Siwach.

Support staff:

MK Kaushik (chief coach), Vasu Thapliyal (asst coach), AB Subbiah (goalkeeping coach) and Amrit Bose (manager).

Charlesworth is here, but things yet to be finalised

(Uthra Ganesan from New Delhi)

AFTER ALMOST three months of being in limbo, Australian legend and IHF Technical Advisor Ric Charlesworth finally has a job profile. And, despite the furore after India's failure to qualify for the Olympics, he has been kept away from the men's senior national team, in what is seen as a clear victory for national coach Joaquim Carvalho.

However, things are yet to take a concrete shape, with Charlesworth professing ignorance about the terms of the contract. With the Sports Ministry stepping in to sort out the cold war between the IHF and Charlesworth, the Australian has been entrusted with the development of junior men's and women’s hockey in the country. At a meeting with Sports Authority of India (SAI) and ministry officials on Monday, Charlesworth was assigned specific role for his involvement with Indian hockey.

The meeting, attended by Sports Ministry secretary S. K. Arora, joint secretary I. Srinivas and SAI director-general Ratan Wattal, IHF president K.P.S. Gill and secretary K. Jothikumaran, decided that Charlesworth would be entrusted with the under-19 and under-21 squads and the women's national team.

"We do not want any ambiguity when the proposal is sent to Charlesworth. He will work with the coaches to groom the under-19 and under-21 teams for the junior Asia Cup and World Cup. He will also work with the women's senior team for the Olympic qualifiers next month," a ministry source said.

Charlesworth, who arrived early on Monday from Perth, later met Gill and said the details were still being worked out. But he refused to say whether he would stay away from the senior team. "I have no idea about that, but if what you are saying is true, then that is not what I was given to understand about my work in India. If that is the case, then that is not the deal."

The meeting, convened at the behest of the Sports Ministry, also made it clear that "the onus would be on IHF to implement the suggestions provided by Charlesworth," sources said, adding that the ministry would keep an eye on the federation to ensure Charlesworth's suggestions are utilised.

However, his being kept away from the men's senior team, indicates the IHF's continued reluctance to accept Charlesworth, roped in by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and the IOA. Chief coach Carvalho has made his displeasure clear at having Charlesworth, and Monday's decision is seen as yet another sign of the IHF's faith in him.

Ministry sources also said that the one-year contract for Charlesworth, with provision for an extension, would be the same as for all foreign coaches. "We cannot discriminate between other foreign coaches and Charlesworth. So the other benefits would be provided to him by the IHF," he said.

Sources also said that the IHF admitted lack of sufficient support staff and that the FIH's threat to withdraw 2010 World Cup from India was only an "arm-twisting tactic."