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Navneet Kaur is one of the youngest members of the Indian women’s squad. Her father, Buta Singh, runs a TV servicing shop. Singh played cricket as a kid. He says, “I didn’t understand anything about hockey until Navneet came back from school and said she wanted to play.”

Rani Rampal, India’s ace striker, lives in one of the most modest houses in the town. It’s just a room, really. and it is full of trophies, medals and badges that Rani has won at tournaments all over the world. Most of the medals hang off a portrait of Rani’s late grandfather who encouraged her to play. Right below it is a photograph of Rani with her childhood icon, Argentine midfielder Luciana Aymar. This wall is a microcosm of the Shahabad story.
It’s 5 am on a midsummer morning. Girls, aged seven to 17, ride in on bicycles. It’s time for the morning practice session. There will be one more in the evening. The daily ritual starts with them watering the ground with sprinklers, washing the balls in a little pool of water, and then starting exercise.

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