For almost ten years, Vandana has been an essential part in Indian women’s hockey, from Junior World Cups to the Olympics.

Vandana Katariya, the second-oldest player on the team at 31, will join an elite club of one as the most-capped Indian women’s hockey player when she plays in her 300th international match on Tuesday.

For over ten years, Vandana has been an integral part of Indian women’s hockey, starting with the 2013 Junior World Cup, when she was instrumental in the country’s lone medal victory (bronze). Additionally, Vandana is the only Indian player to have achieved an Olympic hat-trick. Tuesday would simply be the last leg of a lengthy trip that began in Haridwar’s backstreets.

Vandana Katariya joins an elite club of women with 300 caps for her nation

This voyage had many ups and downs as well as a great deal of effort. However, it is a universal experience; it is not exclusive to me. Although it felt wonderful to be here, I wasn’t alone myself. On her milestone, Vandana said, “I have two families: the hockey family here, who has supported and encouraged me through all the tough times and without whom I could not have succeeded; and my family back home, who has given me unwavering love and support and has always stood by me.

She uses the terms “family” and “team” in every sentence, and even after all these years, she acknowledges that they are sporadically used. Having spent over 300 days a year in camps and competitions, hockey has always been her rock and her haven. Similar to when, in Tokyo in 2021, some ignorant people mocked her family with casteist insults following India’s defeat against Argentina. The Indian squad came together as a unit, and captain Rani didn’t waste any time in voicing his criticism and support. 

“When we see what is occurring – what happened to Vandana’s family – I want to urge to people please stop this prejudice, religion divide and casteism. We put all our hard work and effort to play for India. She told the journalists, “This should never happen to an athlete or a regular person.

It may have been unsettling, but for someone who was often questioned about her decision to play hockey as a child, it served as inspiration to keep playing. With an incredible sense of timing and positioning inside the circle that frequently allows her to shake off her marker with a sudden movement and find space to shoot, Vandana continues to put her name on the scoresheet at a time when most senior players are transitioning to more playmaking roles and leaving the flashiness of scoring to younger players.

Although Vandana was excellent up front as well, Sjoerd Marijne’s leadership of the squad saw her move into a more supportive position as the team’s generator of goals rather than a finisher. Observers found it aggravating that Vandana was missing so many easy opportunities up front. Her return to the front and her ability to shoot while in position gave the offensive an immediate edge.

She has more duties than only scoring. Being the team’s most seasoned player, she acknowledges that building familiarity with the younger players was essential. “My sole duty is to gather everyone and provide a bonding experience between the youngest and oldest players both on and off the pitch. On the pitch, we play as a cohesive team and assist one another. Throughout the play, mistakes are made by everybody, but it is the responsibility of the other players to cover them up and keep the action moving forward. That applies to me as well as everyone else, added Vandana.

Her driving force to get out of bed each morning and keep going is straightforward: if she’s on the team, she should contribute something more, give it her all on the pitch. “My father used to just express his desire to witness the women’s team reach the pinnacle, if only once, as he had witnessed the intense effort firsthand. What he stated, “Be honest with my work and the game, and help the team,” will never leave my memory.

Her dreams are mixed up with a lot of other dreams. “I have to carry everyone’s dreams with me, Papa ka, family ka, team ka, hockey fans ka, uske baad apna – sabka sapna leke chalna hai.” Although there is pressure, I think it’s a wonderful thing. Pressure makes diamonds out of coal and pushes you to do better, she shrugged and grinned.

She has never felt comfortable in the spotlight, in contrast to the majority of forwards and scorers in all sports. She is passionate during a game and frequently lets out a loud roar when she scores on the pitch, but off the pitch, she likes to huddle rather than fly solo.

But on Tuesday, she would rightfully get the whole attention.