New Delhi, Feb 23 Ace striker Rani will lead a 20-member squad for the upcoming tour of South Korea -- between March 3 and 12 -- where they will play five matches against the hosts at the Jinchun National Athletic Centre in Seoul, Hockey India (HI) announced on Friday.
Defender Sunita Lakra will be her deputy for the season opener.
With celebrated goalkeeper Savita rested for the tour, Rajani Etimarpu will be joined by debut player Swati to guard the Indian goalpost.
The defence will see experienced Deepika, who was out of action following a knee surgery last year, make a comeback. She will be joined by Suman Devi Thoudam, Deep Grace Ekka, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam and Gurjit Kaur who will double up as dragflicker.
Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal, Udita and Lilima Minz will form the midfield while Rani, Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur and Poonam Rani, who is also returning to squad after long injury haul, will form India's attack.
The Korea tour will be team's first event after their historic Asia Cup success where they beat China 5-4 in a penalty shootout to lift the title in November last year.
"Doing well in the season's first event is always important to gain confidence and momentum for the rest of the year. Also, Korea Tour will help us analyze the areas that requires improvement ahead of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games where we aim to finish on the podium," coach Harendra Singh said.
On selecting a balanced team with young and experienced players, Harendra said: "It is good to see experienced players Deepika and Poonam overcome injuries and return to the squad. We have a good mix of experienced players who will play an important role of guiding some of the youngsters in the team."
With the team consistently improving in terms of fitness and speed, Harendra is confident of a good show in Korea.
"The girls are consistently scoring well in the Yo-Yo Tests which indicates their speed, fitness level is improving"
"Most of the girls participated in the recently held Hockey India Senior Women National Championship in Ranchi where they performed well for their respective teams and I was also there to watch some of the matches. I am sure they will carry forward this good form in Korea too," he added.
Goalkeepers: Rajani Etimarpu, Swati.
Defenders: Deepika, Sunita Lakra (VC), Deep Grace Ekka, Suman Devi Thoudam, Gurjit Kaur, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam.
Midfielders: Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal, Lilima Minz, Udita.
Forwards: Rani (captain), Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Navneet Kaur, Poonam Rani.