New Delhi [India], Feb 20: Ending the uncertainty behind Sardar Singh's inclusion in the Indian men's hockey team, Hockey India on Tuesday named the veteran midfielder to lead the 18-member squad in the prestigious 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, beginning March 3 in Ipoh, Malaysia.
Meanwhile, forward Ramandeep Singh will serve as Sardar Singh's deputy.
The tournament will see world number one Australia, world number two Argentina, England, India, Ireland and hosts Malaysia in an exciting contest that ends on March 10.
The Indian team will also feature three debut players in Mandeep Mor, Sumit Kumar and Shilanand Lakra.
"Just like the New Zealand Tour where four players made their International debut, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is a great opportunity for these new players to get international exposure against top teams," stated Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne, who was behind India's success at the Men's Asia Cup in 2017 and the Bronze Medal feat at the Odisha Men's Hockey World League Final Bhubaneswar 2017.
While Sumit Kumar (Junior) is part of the ongoing Senior Men National Camp, Mandeep Mor and Shilanand Lakra have been called-up from the Junior Men's Core Group. They were also part of the India Colts team that won Bronze Medal at the Sultan of Johor Cup last year. By introducing new players to the senior fold, Chief Coach Marijne is looking at long-term gains for the team that has set their eyes firmly on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
"With youngsters who have done well in New Zealand as well as few more getting the right international exposure, it will only help us create a bigger group. Playing top teams in their first tournament will be challenging but this is also an opportunity for the seniors to help the youngsters adjust to this level," added the 43-year-old Dutch Coach.
On Sardar Singh's role as the captain, Marijne said, "Sardar is one of the leaders in the core group and in Manpreet Singh's absence, he has been chosen for the job. He is an experienced player and having missed two tournaments previously, this is an opportunity for him to show his skills."
Sardar has been in and out of the team lately, having recently been axed from the 18-member squad for the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.
For the past year he has been pushed to give up his customary playmaker's role to current skipper Manpreet Singh and was asked to play in the 'free man' role in defence during the Asia Cup.
While his future with the Indian team still remains uncertain, Sardar is all set to play in the midfield along with SK Uthappa, Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma and Simranjeet Singh in the upcoming tournament.
India's defence will be guarded by Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas, Dipsan Tirkey, Surender Kumar and new comers Mandeep Mor and Nilam Sanjeep Xess while the Indian goalpost will be kept by Suraj Karkera and Krishan Pathak.
The forward line will feature Gurjant Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Talwinder Singh and debut players Sumit Kumar (Junior) and Shilanand Lakra.
"This tournament is extremely important for the players who are going because it is another opportunity for them to experience high level competition especially from teams like Australia and Argentina. This is a chance for them to show their capability in the international level and ensure their place in the squad for future tournaments," said Marijne.
The full squad is as follows:
Goalkeepers: Suraj Karkera, Krishan B Pathak
Defenders: Amit Rohidas, Dipsan Tirkey, Varun Kumar, Surender Kumar, Nilam Sanjeep Xess, Mandeep Mor
Midfielders:S.K. Uthappa, Sardar Singh (Captain), Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma, Simranjeet Singh
Forwards: Gurjant Singh, Ramandeep Singh (Vice-captain), Talwinder Singh, Sumit Kumar (Junior), Shilanand Lakra.