India announces squad for Junior World Cup

India on Friday announced an 18-member squad for the Junior World Cup, which begins next month in Lucknow.

India has won the Junior World Cup only once, back in 2001.   -  Shreedutta Chidananda

With the emphasis on versatility, India on Friday announced an 18-member squad for the Junior World Cup, which begins next month in Lucknow.

“We have forwards who can play in midfield and midfielders who can play in defence,” said Roelant Oltmans, Hockey India’s high performance director, at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) here. “Sumit and Santa Singh can both play in defence. Simranjeet Singh, who is a forward, can play in midfield. You always need a ‘plan B’.”

It had not been easy to omit seven players from the core group of 25, admitted Harendra Singh, the coach. “We were looking for players who in times of emergency could perform different roles. This is where the others missed the bus. All seven were unlucky to miss out. Sport is very cruel,” he said.

“We (the 25) have been together since April 2014; it's been a long and beautiful journey. We spoke to each of the seven personally. We told them why they missed out, and what the person who made it in their place had done right. Sometimes, when you're looking for the right team combination, even a good player ends up missing out.”

Key men

In Harmanpreet Singh, Harjeet Singh, Mandeep Singh, and goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya, India has four players with experience of turning out for the senior side. “Two of them have been to the Olympics. It definitely helps. They are used to playing under pressure,” said Oltmans.

India will have Roger van Gent, the senior team's strategic coach, working alongside the Junior team's analyst at the tournament. Extra hands were a necessity because Junior sides were unpredictable by nature, the Dutchman felt.

“Given the age of the players, the teams are not consistent,” he said. “We played a Test series against England in September but a number of those key players are not eligible any more. So your analytical staff are very important. There are 44 matches. We need to know every detail about the opponents,” he said.

India has won the Junior World Cup only once, back in 2001, but playing on home soil would not add any pressure, Harendra insisted.

“It depends on how you take it. Enjoy the fact that you're playing in front of 30,000 people. But don't get swept away by their emotions and start playing for them. Then you lose focus and it becomes a disadvantage. That's where we come in as coaches.”

India's juniors gave a good account of themselves in the Australian Hockey League (fourth) and the Four Nations tournament in Valencia (winners), but Oltmans would not be drawn into making bold predictions.

“In sport, you always want the highest possible result but there's not one guarantee,” he said. “Not for us or for the other 15 teams.”

The team: Harjeet Singh, Vikas Dahiya, Krishan Pathak, Dipsan Tirkey, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Vikramjit Singh, Gurinder Singh, Santa Singh, Nilakanta Sharma, Manpreet, Sumit, Parvinder Singh, Gurjant Singh, Armaan Qureshi, Mandeep Singh, Ajit Kumar Pandey, and Simranjeet Singh.

On stand-by: Hardik Singh and Sumit Kumar