Hockey India continued to crack the whip on the Indian hockey team following its dismal show at the Asian Games by changing the captain and dropping two of the senior-most players, SV Sunil and Rupinderpal Singh, while announcing a new-look squad for next month’s Asian Champions Trophy. The governing body made seven changes to the 18-man squad that took part at the Asiad, which concluded in Jakarta-Palembang earlier this month.
Centre-half Manpreet Singh, who was axed as captain in the aftermath of the Commonwealth Games, replaced PR Sreejesh as the skipper. The goalkeeper was named as the team’s leader soon after the CWG, with Hockey India declaring that he will retain that position till the World Cup, which will be held in Bhubaneswar from November 28 to December 16.
Hockey India’s secretary general Mohammed Mushtaq Ahmed had said back then: “The idea behind announcing one captain for all events until the end of the year was to bring stability to the core of…the teams.”
However, he has been demoted after just two tournaments. While chief coach Harendra Singh declined to comment on the team selection, a senior Hockey India official described their about-turn as a direct consequence of the team’s failure to win the gold medal at the Asian Games. Interestingly, it was India’s inability to manage a podium finish that cost Manpreet the captaincy.
The official, who is closely involved in team selections, conceded the decision to change captains in April was ‘to show that Hockey India had taken some action’ after a disappointing performance in Gold Coast. “The reason Manpreet was removed was because we felt there had to be a reaction. That team shouldn’t have finished fourth…the mandate was top three. So we appointed Sreejesh and it felt like a logical choice because he was captain before he suffered his injury,” the official said.
Reinstating Manpreet, the official said, was keeping in mind the long-term balance. “Manpreet can be our skipper the next two-to-four years. So we made this decision to appoint him,” the official said, adding that he ‘should remain captain even for the World Cup.’
The decision to suddenly change the leader after just two tournaments has added to the uncertainty that has dogged the team this year. Fueling the intrigue is the decision to drop Sunil and Rupinderpal. Team sources said Sunil has been ‘rested’ for the tournament, while drag-flicker Rupinderpal has been made to sit out because of poor performances at the Asian Games.
Apart from them, the other players from the Asian Games squad who won’t feature in the Asian Champions Trophy include: Sardar Singh, who retired from international hockey earlier this month, Birender Lakra (injured), Simranjeet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Amit Rohidas (all dropped). Their places have been taken by Kothajit Singh, Gurinder Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh, Hardik Singh (all defenders), midfielders Sumit and Nilakanta Sharma and striker Gurjant Singh.
The Asian Champions Trophy will be the last tournament India will take part in before the World Cup. The six-nation tournament will be held in Muscat from October 18 to 25, with India opening their campaign against hosts Oman on October 18.
Squad: Goalkeepers: PR Sreejesh, Krishan Bahadur Pathak; Defenders: Harmanpreet Singh, Gurinder Singh, Varun Kumar, Kothajit Singh Khadangbam, Surender Kumar, Jarmanpreet Singh, Hardik Singh; Midfielders: Manpreet Singh (Captain), Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (Vice Captain); Forwards: Akashdeep Singh, Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Dilpreet Singh.