Azlan Shah Cup hockey: India to blood four juniors in Malaysia tournament
The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh (Malaysia) is the perfect platform to blood youngsters, ahead of more gruelling events. And, keeping that in mind Hockey India on Tuesday named four youngsters in the squad for the annual event, which kicks off on April 29.
The PR Sreejesh-led squad has four juniors who made an impact in the Junior World Cup at Lucknow last year and other international tournaments.
Defender Gurinder Singh, midfielders Sumit and Manpreet, who were part of the Junior World Cup-winning squad in December last year, are slated to make their debut, while 21-year-old goalkeeper from Mumbai, Suraj Karkera, who was a member of the junior squad that toured England in 2016 and competed in the EurAsia Cup in Russia and the Four-Nations Tournament last year, too finds his name in the squad.
The move to include so many juniors is in line with chief coach Roelant Oltmans’ thinking of looking at the future. The Dutch strategist had said before the national camp for the senior men’s core probables that his focus was to give juniors the right exposure with a vision of building the team for the 2018 World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The team also features drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh, Junior World Cup-winning skipper Harjeet Singh and forward Mandeep Singh. The trio, who played a key role in the Indian team’s success at the Junior World Cup, were part of the team that clinched silver after losing to Australia in the last edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
“The idea was to try out new combinations ahead of the three important tournaments this year, which are the World League Semifinal, Asia Cup and the Odisha Men’s Hockey League Final (Bhubaneswar 2017). We have a few tournaments before these big events like we play Belgium and Germany before we play the World League Semifinal and we play Belgium and Holland in August. These are good opponents against whom we can test ourselves to assess whether the players are achieving what we expect out of them,” said Oltmans.
The other members in the Sreejesh-led team are: midfielder Manpreet Singh (vice-captain), former captain Sardar Singh, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Harjeet Singh and Sumit.
“We will bring a team to Malaysia which is a mixture of experienced and young players some of whom have played in the senior squad earlier. It is a challenge for us to see where we stand with the new team combination compared to other teams like Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand. They also will bring new players. I don’t expect Malaysia and Japan to have too many changes in their teams and I think they play the same players as they did at the Asian Champions Trophy last October,” said Oltmans.
He further stated that a new team will have its own challenges in the course of the tournament but the ultimate goal was to get the best results for the country. “It will be interesting to see how these teams are developing and also access our own progress. We need to pay attention to the structure we are looking for and it takes time to make everyone aware of what the demands of the structure are specially when new players are coming in. Though most of them are responding very well, I believe there will be some ups and downs in the tournament but the aim is to have the best possible result,” he said.
The squad: Goalkeepers: PR. Sreejesh (capt), Suraj Karkera; Defenders: Pardeep Mor, Surender Kumar, Rupinderpal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Gurinder Singh. Midfielders: Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Sumit, Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh (vice-captain), Harjeet Singh, Manpreet, Forwards: SV Sunil, Talwinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Affan Yousuf, Akashdeep Singh.