Hockey: Harmanpreet to captain India at World Cup
Reid has chosen an experienced squad with 13 of the 19 who represented India at Tokyo making the cut for the World Cup
The Indian team’s journey of replicating their Tokyo Olympics success at the World Cup commenced on Friday as Hockey India (HI) announced an 18-member squad that will look for the country’s first medal at the quadrennial event in 48 years.
India’s primary drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh, who captained India for the first time during the Pro League in October-November in a bid to “increase the leadership group”, has been chosen by chief coach Graham Reid and the selection panel to lead the world No 6 outfit at the January 13-29 World Cup.
Manpreet Singh, who led India to an Olympic medal after a gap of 41 years in Tokyo, was replaced as captain by defender Amit Rohidas during the 2021-22 Pro League too before returning as skipper at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in July-August where India finished with silver following a disappointing 0-7 loss to Australia in the final. Rohidas will be Harmanpreet’s deputy in Odisha.
Reid has chosen an experienced squad with 13 of the 19 who represented India at Tokyo making the cut for the World Cup. Manpreet, Rohidas, Harmanpreet along with Surender Kumar, Varun Kumar, PR Sreejesh, Hardik Singh, Nilakanta Sharma, Shamsher Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Mandeep Singh and Lalit Kumar Upadhyay won the bronze a year and a half back. Krishan Bahadur Pathak went to Tokyo but didn’t medal as was a reserve and didn’t play even a single game.
Goalkeeper Sreejesh will be playing his fourth World Cup and third on home soil. The midfield will be boosted with the return of Prasad, who missed the recent tour of Australia as well as the Pro League matches against New Zealand and Spain due to an ankle injury.
The six other Tokyo medallists who didn’t make the cut were Sumit, Gurjant Singh and Dilpreet Singh, who were in the 33 core probables and gave trials earlier this week at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru. Simrajeet Singh wasn’t even in the camp while Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra have retired.
Meanwhile, Akashdeep Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh, Nilam Sanjeep Xess, Abhishek and Sukhjeet Singh are the non-medallists who will be aiming to make their mark in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela.
Experienced forward Akashdeep, who also plays as a midfielder depending on the requirement of the game, was heartbroken when he wasn’t selected for Tokyo. He returned to the drawing board to improve his skills and confidence to return to the squad. The 28-year-old was in sensational form in the Test series against Australia where he scored four goals in three games, including a hat-trick.
While Jarmanpreet has been a regular in the Indian team post the Olympics, Xess has been performing consistently for the team in events like the Asia Cup, Pro League and Test series versus Australia, convincing the selection committee. From a very humble background, Xess’s village is only 45 minutes away from Rourkela where he’s hoping his farmer parents will come to see his play.
Both Abhishek and Sukhjeet made their international debuts earlier this year and have been going from strength to strength, impressing the leadership group. Abhishek scored a goal in only his second international against South Africa in February. Sukhjeet scored on his debut against France, also in February. Sukhjeet was selected in the senior national camp in 2018 too before an acupuncture mishap partially paralysed him for six months before recovering and finally making the Indian team this year.
"The World Cup is the most important 'hockey only' tournament there is. A home World Cup puts extra importance and pressure on this event like no other. Every country chooses the best team they believe is available to them at the time and tries to provide their team with the best preparation they can. We have also tried to do both with the selection of our Indian World Cup team, choosing a mixture of experienced and younger exciting players who can provide something special,” said Reid, who will be taking the team to Rourkela next week to acclimatise to the new ground.
"We have also had a great preparation over the last two months including a home Pro League series and a very tough tour to Australia against the world No 1. We are looking forward to getting to Odisha and put the finishing touches to our preparations for what will be an exciting and challenging tournament ahead."
Rajkumar Pal and drag-flicker Jugraj Singh have been included as alternate players, a rule introduced by the international hockey federation (FIH) post the Covid-19 pandemic.
India have been grouped in Pool D with world No 5 England, No 8 Spain and No 15 Wales and will begin their campaign on January 13 against Spain at the newly built Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium – the largest in India with a capacity of 20,000 spectators – in Rourkela. They will play England on January 15 at the same venue before moving to Bhubaneswar for final group match against Wales on January 19. The knockouts – all in Bhubaneswar – will begin with crossover matches on January 22 and 23 with the quarter-finals scheduled on January 24 and 25. The semi-finals will be held on January 27 with the final on January 29.
India have medalled only thrice at the World Cup. They won bronze in the first edition in 1971 before claiming silver two years later in 1973. It was in 1975 that India won their only title when the Ajit Pal Singh-led squad defeated arch-rivals Pakistan 2-1 in the final in Kuala Lumpur.
India's 18-member squad:
Goalkeepers: Krishan Bahadur Pathak, PR Sreejesh
Defenders: Jarmanpreet Singh, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh (captain), Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas (vice-captain), Nilam Sanjeep Xess
Midfielders: Manpreet Singh, Hardik Singh, Nilakanta Sharma, Shamsher Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Akashdeep Singh
Forwards: Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Abhishek, Sukhjeet Singh
Alternate players: Rajkumar Pal, Jugraj Singh