In a bid to increase the player pool and find fresh faces for the national team while giving the regulars some rest, Hockey India has decided that none of the 33 players in the core group will take part in the national championships, which begin in Lucknow on February 27.
The national governing body has advised all participating units not to consider the national team players for their respective squads, especially those who have played in the Hockey India League, in order to avoid player burnout.
Instead, the core group will assemble in New Delhi on March 9 for the national camp under chief coach Terry Walsh.
National team selector BP Govinda said since the performance of Indian players who are taking part in the HIL has been thoroughly monitored by them and coaches, they found it necessary to look at a new set of players during the nationals. The tournament will be held in Lucknow from February 27 to March 23 and for the first time, will be played under elite and plate divisions.
“The selectors will watch all the Division A matches, where all the top teams with some of the best domestic players will play. Our objective is to inject fresh blood in the national squad. If same set of players will take part in the international tournaments, HIL and nationals, we will never be able to monitor other upcoming players,” Govinda said. “We also thought it necessary to give the core group players a break before they return for the camp on March 9. Hence, we have decided that the core group players, who also played in the HIL, need not play the nationals.”
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Fringe players and those returning from injury may be allowed to take part in the tournament. The likes of Sandeep Singh and Shivendra Singh have been excluded from the squad but on the back of a decent HIL, especially in the case of Sandeep, they will be hoping for a comeback. It’s the same case with Gurwinder Singh Chandi, who has been out injured for a long time.
No new finds
India will be taking part in four major competitions in the second half of the year: World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Champions Trophy. Walsh has insisted on having a large pool of players to choose from. However, the HIL has not helped in unearthing new talents this season.
In the inaugural edition, youngster Mandeep Singh burst onto the scene with a few scintillating performances for Ranchi Rhinos. It’s been a rather different story this time. Barring a rare flash of brilliance, the performances of the Indian players have been mediocre.
Most disappointing has been Ramandeep Singh. The striker became the highest paid player of the HIL when he was picked up for $81,000 by Uttar Pradesh Wizards. He entered the tournament on the back of an injury and has not scored even once this season.
Of the younger lot, Akashdeep Singh, Yuvraj Walmiki, Mohammad Nizammudin, Affan Yousuf and Harjot Singh have had a decent tournament whereas usual suspects of the national team, VR Raghunath, Rupinderpal Singh, SV Sunil and SK Uthappa too have had good outings. But none of them, barring Sardar Singh and Gurbaj Singh, have stood out with their performances.
The selectors are keen to add new faces to the national squad for the upcoming camp. The selectors and coaching staff have identified goalkeeping as the key gray area which they want to address on priority basis. “Indian goalkeepers did not enjoy a good HIL and we have been suffering on that front for quite some time. We hope to find at least one good keeper from the nationals who have be drafted in the national squad,” India coach MK Kaushik said.