Rupinder to lead second-string India in men's Asia Cup hockey
Veteran dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who recently came out of retirement, will lead a second-string Indian men's hockey team in the Asia Cup, scheduled to be held in Jakarta from May 23 to June 1.
The 20-member Indian team will have vice-captain in Birendra Lakra, who too has returned from retirement.
Part of India's bronze medal-winning team at the Tokyo Games, both Rupinder and Lakra had announced their retirements after the Olympics but made themselves available for selection later on.
Asia Cup is a World Cup qualifier but India, being the hosts, have a confirmed entry in the big-ticket event, which will be held in January next year.The top-3 teams in Asia Cup will qualify for the World Cup.
The Indian squad includes another veteran in SV Sunil, who too returned from retirement and is regarded a livewire on the field. He, however, was not part of the Tokyo Olympics squad due to an injury.
Defending champions India have been clubbed along side Japan, arch-rivals Pakistan and hosts Indonesia in Pool A, while Malaysia, Korea, Oman and Bangladesh have been grouped in Pool B.
The Indian team has as many as 10 players who are set to make their senior India debut, including Yashdeep Siwach, Abhisek Lakra, Manjeet, Vishnukant Singh and Uttam Singh, who were part of the junior World Cup.
Besides, the side also has new players like Mareeswaren Sakthivel, Sheshe Gowda BM, Pawan Rajbhar, Abharan Sudev and S Karthi.
Senior players like Manpreet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and PR Sreejesh have been rested for the tournament, keeping in mind the busy international calendar ahead.
The Indian team will compete in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, FIH Pro League matches and the FIH Men's World Cup early next year.
It will be first assignment for former captain and two-time Olympian Sardar Singh as India 'A' coach.
The team features two goalkeepers in Pankaj Kumar Rajak and Suraj Karkera. Defenders include Rupinder, Yashdeep Siwach, Abhisek Lakra, Lakra, Manjeet, Dipsan Tirkey, Vishnukant Singh, Raj Kumar Pal, Mareeswaren Sakthivel, Sheshe Gowda BM, Simranjeet Singh.
Junior World Cup players Maninder Singh and Nilam Sanjeep Xess have been named as replacements while Pawan, Pardeep Singh, Ankit Pal and Angad Bir Singh are standbys.
Speaking about the team composition, Coach BJ Kariappa said, "The team is a good mix of experienced senior players and newcomers, many of whom have played at the international level in different age-group matches but have not made their Senior India debut.
"Since India has already qualified for the FIH Men's World Cup by virtue of being the hosts, this will be a good platform for us to try out this new group and test how these players utilise the opportunity."
Coach Sardar said, "This is a very talented group of players and I have seen them work really hard over the past few weeks to earn a place in the team.
"On a personal front, this will be my first tournament as India Coach and I am looking forward to this new experience."
A member of the national selection committee said it was decided that India would field its reserve players in the Asia Cup to give the youngsters a chance to test their potential among the best at the continental level.
"When we announced to send our 'A' team in the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, we had already decided to send the same bunch of players in the Asia Cup to help them gain experience. Now that Asian Games has been has been postponed, it gives us more time to test our bench strength," the selector told PTI.
"With a packed schedule lined up, it also provides our main team players to take a break and prepare their best in the national camp here. It also provides the youngsters opportunity to make their mark and secure a place in the senior side."
Indian Men's Team:
Goalkeepers: Pankaj Kumar Rajak, Suraj Karkera
Defenders: Rupinder Pal Singh (Captain), Yashdeep Siwach, Abhisek Lakra, Birendra Lakra (Vice Captain), Manjeet, Dipsan Tirkey
Midfielders: Vishnukant Singh, Raj Kumar Pal, Mareeswaren Sakthivel,, Sheshe Gowda BM, Simranjeet Singh
Forwards: Pawan Rajbhar, Abharan Sudev, SV Sunil, Uttam Singh, S Karthi
Replacement Players: Maninder Singh, Nilam Sanjeep Xess
Standbys: Pawan, Pardeep Singh, Ankit Pal, Angad Bir Singh.