In a big blow to India, Hardik Singh has been ruled out of the ongoing Hockey World Cup. The midfielder had sustained a hamstring injury in the group match against England last Sunday and missed the subsequent game.
He will be replaced by Raj Kumar Pal who was in the squad as a reserve player, Hockey India confirmed on Saturday.
India next play New Zealand on Sunday in a crucial crossover match that will decide if the hosts advance to the quarterfinals.
Hardik was taken off field in India's second match and missed the final group game against Wales. India head coach Graham Reid hinting that he might be available for later part of the tournament after MRI scan revealed that the injury might not be serious.
Talking about the decision, Reid said, "Overnight we had to make the difficult decision of replacing Hardik Singh in the Indian team for Sunday's match vs New Zealand and the subsequent World Cup matches."
"While the injury was not as severe as the initial incident suggested, time was not on our side and after our ongoing thorough rehabilitation process and functional and on-field assessment today, it has been decided that we will replace Hardik with Raj Kumar Pal," he added.
Hardik was India's in-form midfielder going into the World Cup. He played a key role in India's opening match win over Spain, scoring a superb goal balancing both going forward while staying solid in defence. Raj Kumar Pal is a like-for-like replacement Hardik. The youngster can go up and down the pitch like Hardik with his relentless work rate but lacks experience at the international arena, having played only 25 matches so far.
India will play New Zealand on Sunday for a place in the quarterfinal. The team is struggling to score goals despite creating chances. If they beat New Zealand in the crossover match, India will be up against defending champions Belgium in the quarterfinal.