Barely three months ago, Affan Yousuf, Devinder Walmiki and Lalit Upadhyay were not part for India’s junior World Cup squad. The trio, who had been the pillars of the team till then, were surprisingly left out of the mega event at home by coaches Gregg Clark and Baljit Saini. Their absence was clearly felt during the tournament as India finished a dismal 10th.
Now, as the senior team prepares for their World Cup in a little over three months, chief coach Terry Walsh is making sure the mistake isn’t repeated. Yousuf, Devinder and Upadhyay, on Tuesday, were among the 33 probables for the Holland event.
Since arriving here in October last year, the Australian has spoken about blooding fresh talents in the squad and it has reflected in his selection of the core group. Sixteen players out of the 33 summoned for the month-long preparatory camp in Delhi from March 9 are aged under 23. Thirteen of them also played in the junior World Cup.
“That’s where the future of the game is. A lot of these players are showing improvement. I am really excited to have them and it should increase the competition level within the squad and put pressure on the seniors. Having worked from within the Hockey India League, we’ve been able to make a fair and decent assessment (of the young players),” Walsh told The Indian Express from Perth.
Upadhyay and Walmiki both played for Walsh-coached Kalinga Lancers in the HIL. So did Vikram Kanth, the defender who is back in fray after making his India debut eight years back. Kanth caught Walsh’s attention during the Mumbai Gold Cup last October and continued to impress the 59-year-old during the HIL.
Also making a comeback are Sandeep Singh and Gurbaj Singh, who last played for India at the London Olympics. Gurbaj’s return was expected. After several run-ins with former coach Michael Nobbs, the right half had been constantly overlooked despite being counted among the best players in the country.
His consistent performances in the domestic circuit and the HIL last month, however, could not be ignored. Known for his immaculate ball distribution, energy and aggression, Gurbaj stood out in the HIL for Delhi Waveriders. Sandeep, meanwhile, was the HIL’s top-scorer for second consecutive season. While his drag-flicking abilities are beyond doubt, his defensive frailties can become his undoing. Unless he becomes quick on feet, it is unlikely that he will be on the plane to The Hague.
Those who’ve missed out include goalkeeper PT Rao, defender Amit Rohidas and injured forward Gurwinder Singh Chandi. The team selection is likely to happen towards the end of April. India will be travelling to Holland continued…