Haryana cart-puller's daughter is hockey's shining young star
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While the world took notice of the 18-year-old only this past week, for the family of humble means from Shahbad in Haryana, Rani's talent was never in doubt. As long as a decade ago, Rani's father, a cart-puller, had decided to act after he saw his daughter's unusual interest in hockey. Their village had a reputed academy run by Dronacharya award-winning coach Baldev Singh, and the hockey turf was to become Rani's second home.
Speaking about her early days, Indian hockey's brightest young star said, "My family toiled to make ends meet. So for me, something as basic as a hockey stick was not affordable. My father works as a cart-puller and my two brothers are carpenters. But they somehow ensured I found a way to practise.
"I tell my father not to work any more. But he insists on working. He doesn't listen to me. I hope I can convince him now."
After her family, it's coach Baldev who figures prominently in Rani's 'thank you' speech. "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," says the confident teenager, who now works as a clerk with the Railways.
The lanky forward shone at the Junior Nationals in Gwalior and at the Chandigarh School Nationals, and was soon drafted into the national squad. "She was unlike most of the players of her age, boys or girls. She picked up the game faster and better than the others and while many young players are just thrilled to be a part a new culture and atmosphere, Rani always had the desire to win, no matter who the opponent. That kind of mentality sets her apart from the rest," Baldev said.
Rani's rise has been meteoric. She holds the record for Indian hockey's youngest international debut, aged 14. When she was 15, she was the youngest player at the 2010 women's World Cup. She scored seven goals in the quadrennial tournament in Rosario and, quite incredibly, scored twice in a span of one minute against South Africa. Not surprisingly, she was included in the International Hockey Federation's team of the year 2010.
Former women's coach C R Kumar says the only concern is that she is injury-prone. "She can do almost everything that an individual can with a hockey stick. Perhaps the most talented woman player we have produced so far. The only thing that she needs to work on is avoiding injury. To prolong her career and fulfil the potential, she needs to find a solution to that."