Sreejesh to lead India at Azlan Shah Meet

Defender Gurinder Singh, midfielders Sumit and Manpreet were a part of the Junior World Cup winning squad and are slated to make their debut at the tournament.

P.R. Sreejesh will once again lead the team in the Azlan Shah hockey tournament.   -  Getty Images

Seven players from the junior ranks found a place in India’s squad for the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, announced here on Tuesday. Four of those — goalkeeper Sumit Karkera, defender Gurinder Singh, and midfielders Sumit and Manpreet (Jr) — are in line to debut, while Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh and Harjeet Singh have already earned senior caps.

“We always want a good senior core but feel we have to give the juniors an opportunity,” said chief coach Roelant Oltmans. “It’s good for them to get exposure. A number of common (senior) names are not involved but it doesn’t mean anything for the future.”

Fresh Olympic cycle

The Azlan Shah Cup, to be held in Ipoh, Malaysia, from April 29 to May 6, in some ways marks the beginning of a fresh Olympic cycle for India. It was an opportunity to experiment before bigger assignments ahead, Oltmans felt.

“This is not the most important tournament for us in 2017. The Asia Cup (Sep 30 to Oct 8, Dhaka) and the HWL Final (Dec 1 to 10, Bhubaneswar) are the main ones. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to perform in the other tournaments.

“We want to test ourselves. We want to try out all the combinations in 2017 because 2018 is a huge year, with the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games, the Champions Trophy and the World Cup.”

Squad
  • Goalkeepers: P.R. Sreejesh (C), Suraj Karkera; Defenders: Pardeep Mor, Surender Kumar, Rupinderpal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Gurinder Singh; Midfielders: Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Sumit, Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh (VC), Harjeet Singh, Manpreet; Forwards: SV Sunil, Talwinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Affan Yousuf, Akashdeep Singh.

Dipsan Tirkey, who was hugely impressive during the junior World Cup, was not called up, while Simranjeet Singh was left out too. “Dipsan had a good junior World Cup and is a big talent but this is maybe one step too early,” Oltmans said.

Sardar impresses

Ramandeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah and S.K. Uthappa, all of whom featured at the Rio Olympics, were rested while Sardar Singh was not. Oltmans was impressed with the veteran midfielder’s attitude since the national camp began at the SAI here last month.

“He has made a good impression on the coaching staff during the last four weeks,” the Dutchman noted. “He is very eager. He’s been training very well. He brings experience which is still needed.

“He wants to show that in 2017 he’s still an important player for India. The way he’s not only training but also doing extra to make that happen – he deserves a lot of compliments for that.”