When the national selectors sit down on Tuesday morning to finalise the team for the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament next month,they will not only be looking to select a new-look team but also take stock of the talent pool at their disposal. But going by the limited talent on show at the camp,the selectors might be able to string together a team that will be competitive at the May 5 to 15 invitational tournament at Ipoh,Malaysia but it definitely wouldnt be a side that can take on the best in the business.
The core of the national team from the Asian Games will be missing this time around since eight of those who travelled to Guangzhou are out of contention because of injuries or personal reasons. This means the back three,Indias weakest link ever since Dilip Tirkey retired he is,incidentally,now a selector remains vulnerable.
Sardar Singh is absent and his replacements are likely to be Rupinderpal Singh and Gurjinder Singh. The former is tall and strong but lacks agility; the latter is more in the side for his drag-flicks. Dhananjay Mahadik,not the most consistent,is likely to complete the troika despite a sore back a couple of days back.
On the other hand,attack still remains Indias strong point. Despite the absence of Rajpal Singh and Tushar Khandker,there are worthy replacements to give the team management heart. Even though a couple of them remain untested in top-level competition. Roshan Minz,coming back into national reckoning after almost three years,is back to full fitness,as is SV Sunil,who returns after a knee surgery. Shivendra Singh and Sarwanjit Singh are old hands and will have to share a major part of the pressure.
It is again the midfield that will bear the maximum load and the one area that should,in the long run,be the biggest concern for the officials. Captain Arjun Halappa and Vikram Pillay form the fulcrum of all the team plans,along with VS Vinaya,and all are in their 30s. That they are still the best in the country and no one in the current lot is likely to push them much for their place is not a healthy sign.
Chandi injured,may miss out
Gurvinder Singh Chandi,meanwhile,is likely to miss the flight to Malaysia after being hit by a ball during Mondays trials. Chandi was hit on the face near his right eye by a rising ball and was rushed to the hospital. While the x-rays did not reveal much,he was still under observation by an ophthalmologist till late at night. Chandi has been among the most impressive,both in terms of skills and temperament,of the younger players in the past two years. His absence means Indias attack will suffer and Shashi Topno,praised by chief coach Harendra Singh,may get a look in.