Indian Hockey Federation president Kanwar Pal Singh Gill clarified tonight that there was no secret agenda in not including seven senior members of the team that won the Asia Cup hockey tournament in Kuala Lumpur just last week, including captain Dhanraj Pillay, in the list of probables for the Afro-Asian Games later this month.
Gill said the axing of Pillay, Baljit Singh Dhillon, Baljit Singh Saini, Dinesh Nayak, Didar Singh, Tejbir Singh and goalkeeper Kamaldeep Singh has nothing to do with the showdown between Pillay and chief coach Rajinder Singh in Chennai earlier this week on the team's return from Kuala Lumpur.
"Let me make it clear that this has nothing to do with that controversy," Gill told rediff.com "In fact the decision to rest our top players was taken before the Asia Cup."
Asked if this would not have an adverse impact on the team's performance, Gill said resting the top players would have no bearing on the outcome of the tournament. "This is only a tactical move," he said, "and we want to give a chance to youngsters who are doing well at the moment in the junior team."
Pillay himself believes he and the six others will return to the India side after the Afro-Asian Games. The captain told a television network from Bangalore that the IHF had rested the seniors to avoid burnout before the Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy tournament and the Olympic Games qualifiers early next year.
Some former players are unwilling to buy this theory. "I feel the IHF is bluffing the players," a former India hockey captain, who refused to go on record, said, "and trying youngsters to see if they fit into the side. Rest is just a pretext to drop them."
But Ajitpal Singh, another former Indian hockey team captain,however felt that IHF had a good reason for dropping senior players for the Afro Asian Games.
"We have just come back after winning a tournament and if we play a new side and lose to Pakistan we could say that our best side did not take part in the tournament. On the contrary if we play full strength and we lose then the morale of the team would dip and it would not be good for the Indian hockey team. This is my gut feeling. But you never know what is the truth," he admitted.