Sardar Singh named captain for Azlan Shah Cup

Three rookie players have been included in the Indian side for the prestigious invitational tourney.

Sardar Singh has found himself in and out of the team of late. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

After being left out of the national side for the HWL Final and the tour of New Zealand, Sardar Singh was on Tuesday named the captain of the Indian team for the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Sardar's omission from the side after the Asia Cup last year did not augur well for his future, and there has been much speculation since. But the 31-year-old was convinced that he still had a lot left to give.

"I'm doing my best to play for as long as possible," he told reporters at the SAI here. "The World Cup (2018) and the Olympics (2020) are there; we need to win medals. Hockey has given me a lot over the last 10 years. My aim is just to keep myself fit and play my best."

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He was disappointed to miss the HWL Final, Sardar admitted. "Yes, of course [I was disappointed]. The HWL Final is a big tournament and I was preparing well but whatever the decision of the coaches and the federation was, I was fine with it."

Sardar had no complaints about squad rotation, however, adding that head-coach Sjoerd Marijne had been clear in communicating his decisions. "At the Asia Cup, I played as a free defender after a long time. After that, Sjoerd told me he wanted to try a few new players. They are rotating, and it's good for everyone.

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"When Roelant Oltmans was the coach, we had a core group of 34 and we used only 20-22 players; the others didn't get a chance. Now Sjoerd is giving everyone a chance," he said.

With the Asian Games and the World Cup scheduled for later this year, Sardar agreed that the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was perhaps the last chance for him to make an impression. He will lead a relatively inexperienced unit in Malaysia (March 3-10), with three debutants -- Mandeep Mor, Shilanand Lakra and Sumit Kumar (Jr) – in the squad of 18.

Having played as a sweeper in the Asia Cup, the veteran will now feature in midfield. “It's been 10 years and I still don't know [what my best position is],” he joked. “In 2009-10 I played my best hockey, as a free man in defence. Now I have a lot of experience playing in midfield, so I think that is better.”

Did he believe he was capable of staging a comeback, Sardar was asked. “When I started, my dream was to be like Teun de Nooijer and Jamie Dwyer,” he said. “I used to watch them on TV. Then I was selected alongside them in the FIH All-Star Teams of 2010 and 2011. You have been adjudged the best player at a major tournament, you have proven yourself against the best, you have won a lot of awards...after that, you keep yourself as fit as possible and train well. You do what is in your hands.”

Squad

  • Goalkeepers: Suraj Karkera, Krishan B Pathak

  • Defenders: Amit Rohidas, Dipsan Tirkey, Varun Kumar, Surender Kumar, Nilam Sanjeep Xess, Mandeep Mor

  • Midfielders: S K Uthappa, Sardar Singh (Captain), Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma, Simranjeet Singh

  • Forwards: Gurjant Singh, Ramandeep Singh (Vice-captain), Talwinder Singh, Sumit Kumar (jr), Shilanand Lakra.