Till a couple of months ago, Jasjit Singh was nowhere on the national team’s radar. He, after all, had been in-and-out of the Railways team on the domestic circuit. He had also been rather unimpressive for the Uttar Pradesh Wizards in the Hockey India League (HIL).
Further, Jasjit has not represented India at the junior or sub-junior levels, considered a natural progression for any player. Quite astonishingly though, the 24-year-old midfielder has finally got his break and, that too, on the biggest stage of all — the World Cup. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end!
Jasjit was the only surprise inclusion in Terry Walsh’s 18-man squad for the quadrennial mega-event, which begins in The Hague on May 31. The team will be captained by Sardar Singh, with drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh as his deputy. Striker Mandeep Singh returned to the squad, as expected, after recovering from injury.
Jasjit’s selection has raised a few eyebrows as he has not even been on the periphery of the junior team. Picked for UP Wizards by Roelant Oltmans — also India’s high performance director — for just $3,000 he hardly set the tournament on fire unlike a few other young players. Even so, high performance director Roelant Oltmans and Walsh hold him in high regard.
“The question really is, why hasn’t he been picked so far?,” Oltmans said. “I’ve seen a lot of him during (the) HIL and even during the camp, he has been among the better players. He deserves this opportunity.”
Walsh described him as a ‘confident’ midfield player who was ‘very skillful’ and had ‘good vision going forward. The Australian said that Jasjit could play in all three roles in midfield (left, middle and right) and could also be used as a drag-flicker.
“I’ve been impressed by him over the last three months. Unfortunately, he got injured before the tour to Europe last month and he couldn’t go, but he has recovered quite well,” Walsh said.
The 59-year-old played down the concerns of Jasjit being exposed at the highest level. “It’s all about opportunity. Personally, I feel you have to play between 30 and 50 games before you find your footing at the international level and be a key player of the team. But the level Jasjit has achieved at the national camp will stand him in good stead internationally,” Walsh insisted.
Jasjit has been chosen ahead of highly-rated young players like Lalit Upadhyay and Devinder Walmiki, who are among the standbys. Their exclusion, along with striker Yuvraj Walmiki, comes as a surprise, considering that they are rated highly by Walsh. Midfielder Danish Mujtaba too has failed to make the cut — he hasn’t fully recovered from an injury.
Defender Gurbaj Singh returns to the squad for his first major tournament after the London Olympics while the composition of is almost the same as the one that traveled to the Netherlands last month.
Oltmans said the squad would leave for The Hague on May 22 and play two practice matches against Argentina (May 25) and South Africa (May 28).
India are placed in Group A along side defending champions Australia, Belgium, England, Spain and Malaysia.
Team: Goalkeepers: PR Sreejesh and Harjot Singh; Defenders: Gurbaj Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, VR Raghunath, Birendra Lakra, Kothajit Singh Khadangbam and Manpreet Singh; Midfielders: Sardar Singh, SK Uthappa, Dharamvir Singh, Jasjit Singh and Chinglensana Singh; Forward: SV Sunil, Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah and Mandeep Singh.
Selection gaffe leaves HI red-faced
Hockey India seem to have shot themselves in the foot by including a player they suspended, in the standbye list for the World Cup.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh was handed a six-month ban — April to September — by the national body in March for violent conduct during a domestic tournament.
Hockey India secretary general Narinder Batra acknowledged that the federation had erred. “It is a mistake on our part. We overlooked the issue and appropriate steps will be taken in the next 24 hours,” Batra said.
Gurpreet, who plays for Air India, was involved in a brawl with India discard Sarvanjit Singh and Karamjeet Singh during the Bombay Gold Cup last October. They hurled their hockey sticks at each other and all were shown red cards.
The committee further ruled that Gurpreet, along with the two other Punjab and Sindh Bank players, will be on ‘probation for a period of one year from October 1 and any repeat incident of such nature will immediately result in another ban of one year from the date of that incident.