New Delhi: Veteran Sardar Singh has got one more chance to prolong his international career after he was on Tuesday named captain of the Indian men's hockey team for the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, a tournament where three players will make their debut for the country.
Sardar, who is in the twilight of his career, has been in and out of the team lately and was ignored from India's last two international assignments.
Sardar last played for India at the Asia Cup but was dropped from the Indian squads for the Hockey World League Final in last December and then for the tour of New Zealand.
But new chief coach Sjoerd Marijne handed another lifeline to the midfield ace when he was appointed to lead India at next month's Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia after regular skipper Manpreet Singh was rested.
Sardar wants to continue till the 2020 Olympics but with three big events -- Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup -- lined up this year, the Azlan Shah Cup probably is his last chance to impress the national selectors with the team think-tank seemingly preferring a younger lot.
Coach Marijne too hinted that it is a big opportunity for Sardar to impress the team management and stay in the reckoning for future tournaments.
“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," he said.
While Sardar will lead, striker Ramandeep Singh has been named vice-captain of the side.
The tournament will also witness three rookie players in Mandeep Mor, Sumit Kumar (Jr) and Shilanand Lakra, who are set to make their debut.
While Sumit Kumar (Jr) is part of the ongoing senior men's national camp, Mandeep Mor and Shilanand Lakra have been called up from the junior men's core group. The two 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, Marijne is looking at long-term gains for the team that includes the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Just like the New Zealand tour where four players made their international debut, the Azlan Shah Cup is a great opportunity for these new players to get international exposure against top teams,” said Marijne.
“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 Dutchman.
Sardar will be in charge of the midfield alongside SK Uthappa, Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma and Simranjeet Singh.
The defence will be guarded by Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas, Dipsan Tirkey, Surender Kumar and newcomers Mandeep Mor and Nilam Sanjeep Xess while Suraj Karkera and Krishan Pathak are the two goalkeepers.
The forward line will feature Gurjant Singh, Ramandeep, Talwinder Singh and debutants Sumit Kumar (Jr) 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," Marijne said.
"This is a chance for them to show their capability in the international level and ensure their place in the squad for future tournaments.”
The Azlan Shah Cup is a prestigious invitational tournament that will be played from March 3 to 11 at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium in Ipoh.
Besides hosts Malaysia and India, the tournament will also feature world no. 1 Australia, world no.2 Argentina, England and Ireland.
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.