18-member inexperienced side for Azlan Shah

New Delhi: Hockey India on Tuesday named an 18-member inexperienced national squad without at least half a dozen senior players, including former captain Rajpal Singh, for the Azlan Shah tournament starting May 5 in Ipoh, Malaysia.

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

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

Addressing a press conference, national coach Harendra Singh said the selectors have picked the best available squad due to injury to some senior players and the seven-team tournament would serve as the build-up to Champions Trophy (here in December) and the 2012 Olympic qualifiers (here next 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 which began from May 1 at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here.

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

"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 has been 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 and his main aim would be to rectify the mistakes the team has been committing off late and pick the core group of players for the Olympic qualifiers.

"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," the coach said.

Harendra admitted that the defence, without Sandeep and Sardara, would be the weak link but said the youngsters would 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 the 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 who 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 the last year`s Azlan Shah Cup 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.