Sidelined after a disappointing outing at the London Olympics last year,drag-flicker Sandeep Singh is set to return to the national team for the upcoming tour of Holland along with striker Yuvraj Walmiki. It is learnt that Sandeep will replace midfielder Birendra Lakra while Walmiki will come in place of injured forward Gurwinder Singh Chandi.
The team,to be officially announced this week,will be playing three matches against the Dutch national team and four against top club sides during the tour,which has been organised by the High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans. The team will be leaving for Holland on April 27.
This is seen as a lucky break for Sandeep since Lakra,citing college examination,had made himself unavailable for selection. A member of the selection panel,speaking on the condition of anonymity,said this was the last chance for Sandeep to cement his place in side. More so since the team was in experiment mode before the second half of the year that is was full of several important outings.
The Holland tour is seen as a preparatory outing for the World League Round 3,which will be held in Rotterdam from June 13 to 22. Indias next big assignment will be in August,when they take part in the Asia Cup that will be held in Malaysia. Both these tournaments are qualifiers for next years World Cup,also in Holland.
There are a couple of reasons for including Sandeep in the squad. Firstly,if we have three drag-flickers (VR Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh being the other two),it will become a strong weapon for us to exploit. Secondly,we havent seen much of Sandeep post Olympics. We wanted to try him out one last time and this was the best opportunity to do that, said the selector,adding,We wanted to see how he performs against a top European side – both,in defence and also with his drag-flicks. Its a crucial test for him,perhaps a last chance for him to create an impression.
Chief coach Michael Nobbs had earlier mentioned that doors were not closed on Sandeep but insisted that he had to reinvent himself. Sandeeps only major assignment after the Olympics,which concluded last August,was the Hockey India League in January-February this year. His side,Mumbai Magicians,had finished at the bottom of the five-team competition but Sandeep emerged as the top scorer in the league,scoring 11 goals – all via penalty corners. His defensive work rate,however,was disappointing.
Walmiki,meanwhile,will make a return to the national team after 11 months,having last played in the Olympics qualifier tournament in May last year. After being sidelined owing to an injury last year,Walmiki was asked to improve his muscle weight. Nobbs seems to be impressed with the progress made by the youngster. Theres no doubt that Yuvraj is immensely talented but he needed to work on a couple of issues. From what Ive observed in the camp so far,he has made good progress and is heading in the right direction, Nobbs had said before the selection meeting last week.