With an eye on the World League semifinals to be held in June, India coach Paul van Ass has decided to give seven players, who have been on the fringes, an opportunity to stake claim to the national team.
In addition to the 18-member squad which travelled to Malaysia for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in March, the Dutchman has included six more players for the four-match test series against Japan, which begins in Bhubaneswar from May 3. Van Ass, who has insisted the need to strengthen the back line, has included three young defenders — Harmanpreet Singh, Jasjit Singh, Gurmail Singh — for the series.
Harmanpreet has been impressive in the domestic circuit and was one of the better performers for Dabang Mumbai in the Hockey India League this year. Van Ass had highlighted the defence as one of the key areas that needed immediate attention after the Azlan Shah Cup, where India conceded several soft goals. “Our easy-going days are over and we are working harder in this preparation camp. We are rectifying our loop-holes, especially in defence,” he said.
Energetic midfielder Pardeep Mor and forwards Yuvraj Walmiki and Lalit Upadhyay too have been included in the squad. Walmiki, who was among the standbys, was a last-minute inclusion after Danish Mujtaba picked up an injury during the recently-concluded National Championships. Among the notable omissions was Gurjinder Singh, but he too is believed to be recovering from an injury. Walmiki returns to the India team for the first time since last year’s World Cup. Upadhyay, who was dropped after the Champions Trophy, will hope to utilize the opportunity to cement his place in the team after being in-and-out for a while. “We are reviewing our previous performances and working on various aspects. We are trying out new players in the tournament and will give maximum opportunities to all the players to perform on the field,” Van Ass said.
Sardar, too, said he expected the young players to gel well with the team. “We have brought back few young players. It’s good to have many options, which will help us to implement our tactics on the ground,” he said.
PR Sreejesh, Harjot Singh; Gurbaj Singh, Rupinderpal Singh, Birendra Lakra, Kothajit Singh, VR Raghunath, Jasjit Singh, Gurmail Singh, Harmanpreet Singh; Manpreet
Singh, Dharamvir Singh, Sardar Singh, SK Uthappa, Chinglensana Singh, Pardeep Mor; SV Sunil, Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Yuvraj Walmiki, Mandeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah, S Singh, Lalit Upadhyay.