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Inexperienced Indian squad for Azlan hockey

April 19, 2011 18:55 IST

Hockey India on Tuesday named an inexperienced 18-member national squad for the Azlan Shah tournament, starting May 5, in Ipoh, Malaysia.

At least six senior players, including former captain Rajpal Singh, are not in the team.

Besides Rajpal, who is yet to fully recover from an injury, the squad, announced after a two-day trial in Delhi, does not have drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, defender Sardara Singh, midfielder Bharat Chikara and striker Tushar Khandekar.

Six players were also named as standbys after a selection committee meeting, attended by Col Balbir Singh (Sr), B P Govinda, Syed Ali, Manohar Toppo, Thoiba Singh and government nominees Dilip Tirkey and Harbinder Singh.

Addressing a press conference, coach Harendra Singh said the selectors have picked the best available talent and the seven-team tournament will serve as the build-up to Champions Trophy in Delhi in December and the 2012 Olympic qualifiers, also in Delhi in February.

"The selectors have picked the best available squad. We have left out some six-seven senior players as they are not fully fit. We are taking Azlan Shah as a build-up and it will give a good exposure to the young players," he said.

"Our main aim is to qualify for the 2012 Olympics and do well in the Champions Trophy. The main objective is to have a core group of 24-28 players for the Olympic qualifiers. We need to qualify for the Olympics," Harendra said.

Sandeep and Sardara were apparently not considered for the tournament as they did not report for the national camp.

However, striker Gurwinder Singh Chandi, who was hit by the ball on his face during the camp, has been named in the squad after being cleared by a medical panel.

"We have done an X-Ray yesterday and there is no problem on Chandi. We are also taking a third opinion from another doctor from AIIMS who had treated goalkeeper Baljit Singh earlier. We are hoping that he would be fully fit before the team departs on April 29," Harendra said.

Harendra, who is in his first assignment as head coach, said Rajpal, who captained the side in the World Cup, Commonwealth and Asian Games, has been suffering from a lower abdominal pain and is rested in view of more important tournaments ahead.

"Rajpal is suffering from lower abdominal pain. There is no treatment for this other than strengthening the abdominal muscle and take rest. He has not played much in recent times.

"We did not want to take any chances. He is a crucial player. We will need him in future tournaments," he said.

The coach said he is not expecting much from the young and inexperienced side.

"We have to correct the mistakes of the past like in the number of penalty corners we have been conceding. We are not looking for physical results but for objective results and correcting the mistakes," Harendra said.

He said he would not put pressure on the players nor take it himself.

"I have learnt this month from Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gary Kirsten that don't take pressure and don't put pressure on others. Stick to basics, play to a plan and results will come automatically," he said.

Harendra admitted that the defence, without Sandeep and Sardara, could be the weak link, but said the youngsters should take the opportunity with both hands.

"Rupinder and Diwakar Ram have not been regular and in and out of the team. But they have enough experience to do well. Dhananjay and Rupinder can drag-flick for penalty-corners. Diwakar and Dhananjay have done well in the European tour," he said.

Arjun Halappa, who has already been named captain of the side for the upcoming tournament, said fans should not expect much from the team devoid of senior players.

"Obviously, the team is without 7-8 senior and regular players. So, please don't expect much. But we hope to do well and the important thing is it is the build-up to important tournaments ahead," he said.

Besides India, Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia are the other teams that will be taking part in this year's Azlan Shah Cup.

India will play the junior side of Malaysia and New Zealand in practice matches before taking on South Korea in their tournament opener on May 5.

India were the joint winners along with South Korea in last year's tournament after the final was washed out.

The squad:

Goalkeepers: Bharat Kumar Chetri, Adrian D'Souza.

Defenders: Dhananjay Mahadik, Rupinder Pal Singh, Diwakar Ram.

Midfielders: Gurbaj Singh, Vikas Pillay, Vikram Pillay, Arjun Halappa (capt), Ravi Pal, Danish Mujtaba, Vikas Sharma.

Forwards: Shivendra Singh, S V Sunil, Mandeep Antil, Sarvanjeet Singh, Gurwinder Singh Chandi, Roshan Minz.

Standbys: P R Sreejesh, William Xalxo, Gurjinder Singh, Birendra Lakra, Preetinder Singh, Bikash Toppo.

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