CWG: Sreejesh recalled, Sardar dropped from hockey squad

PR Sreejesh Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Experienced goalkeeper PR Sreejesh made a comeback while former skipper Sardar Singh was dropped from the 18-member Indian men's hockey squad for next month's Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, it was announced on Tuesday.

India, who will be led by Manpreet Singh with Chinglensana Singh Kangujam as his vice-captain, open their campaign on April 7 against arch-rivals Pakistan in Pool B, which also includes Malaysia, Wales and England.

It was under Manpreet's leadership that India lifted the Asia Cup title and also won bronze at the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar last year.

Sreejesh returns from a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury suffered during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2017, his performances during the New Zealand tour earning him his place back. Sreejesh will be backed by 22-year-old Suraj Karkera, who was crucial to India's good show in Bhubaneswar in his senior counterpart's absence.

Sardar's exclusion was expected after his below-par performance at this year's Azlan Shah tournament. However, Ramandeep Singh's exclusion led to a few raised eyebrows, since he performed reasonably well in the same event.

Youngsters Dilpreet Singh and Vivek Sagar Prasad, who made their international debut in New Zealand, have been rewarded with this opportunity after both scored in important games. Drag-flick expert Rupinder Pal Singh will form the core of India's defence along with Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Kothajit Singh, Gurinder Singh and Amit Rohidas.

India's midfield will see skipper Manpreet in the lead role, supported by the experience of Chinglensana along with young blood in Sumit and Vivek.

The attack will feature a combination of experience and youth as SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Gurjant Singh and Dilpreet Singh are all in the squad.

"This squad has been picked keeping in mind the performance in the previous tournaments since the Asia Cup 2017. We have tried out different combinations in the past events and we believe this will be the most effective combination for the Gold Coast 2018 XXI Commonwealth Games," said chief coach Sjoerd Marijne.

He said that the team has a winning mindset and will look to aim for the best in the quadrennial event.

"This team has been improving with every match and while we could not produce a podium finish at the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2018, it will have no influence on how we are going to play in Australia and we will be going there with a mindset to win," said the 43-year-old Dutchman.

In the previous two editions of the Commonwealth Games, India finished second behind Australia.

Manpreet, however, is confident of turning the tables this time. "Our first aim is to do well in the group stage because we have some strong teams in our pool. It's extremely crucial to top our table and make the semi-final but if we do meet Australia in the knockouts, I believe we will be up for a strong challenge," he said.