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 to play a few friendly matches in early April as a part of their preparation for the World Cup. The quadrennial showpiece event will be held in the Netherlands from May 31 to June 15 and India are in Group A along side Australia, England, Belgium, Spain and Malaysia.
“We need to get our team playing outside India, against European teams. The team will be selected week after we get back from that tournament. The 33 players we have selected will have to work really hard to stay in contention. Those who won’t will be out and we include those who do well in the ongoing national championships,” Walsh said.
Probables: Goalkeepers: P.R. Sreejesh, Harjot Singh, Sushant Tirkey Defenders: Gurbaj Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, V.R. Raghunath, Birendra Lakra, Gurmail Singh, Kothajit Singh Khadangbam, Gurjinder Singh, Gurinder Singh, Sandeep Singh, Vikram Kanth Midfielders: S.K. Uthappa, Dharamvir Singh, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh, Danish Mujtaba, Satbir Singh, Devinder Sunil Walmiki, Vikas Pillay, Jasjit Singh Forwards: Nikkin Thimmaiah, Nithin Thimmaiah, S.V. Sunil, Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Affan Yousuf, Yuvraj Walmiki, Talwinder Singh, Lalit Upadhyay.
Chhattisgarh beat Kerala
Lucknow: CHHATTISGARH came from two goals behind and went on to defeat opponents Kerala 3-2 in their Pool D match of the 4th Hockey India Senior Men’s National Championship (B Division) at Dhyan Chand Stadium, Lucknow on Tuesday. Kerala forwards Sarin E (19th minute) and Jithu Sasi (34th minute) struck apiece each to give a 2-0 lead to their team at the breather. Chhattisgarh resorted to an aggressive game in the second-half. Shakeel Ahmed scored off a PC in the 55th minute, Erfan Khan equalised with a field goal in the 62nd minute while Upendra Pillay hit the winner in the dying seconds of the game.
Two Pool C matches were also played on Tuesday. In the first Pool C match, Puducherry defeated Tripura 11-1 while Hockey Gangpur-Odisha beat Mizoram 6-0 in the other match.