Bengaluru, March 13: Indian men's hockey team coach Sjoerd Marijne on Tuesday (March 13) made it clear that Sardar Singh was dropped from the squad for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, scheduled to be held from April 4-15, because he wasn't impressive at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup held recently.
Hockey India announced an 18-member squad which saw the return of goalkeeper PR Sreejesh for his first tournament after a long injury. Among the big names axed from the squad were midfielder Sardar Singh, who captained India in the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, forward Ramandeep Singh and defender Birendra Lakra.
The Chief Coach of the Indian Men’s Hockey Team, Sjoerd Marijne, says India will play its best team in the Commonwealth Games with players carefully chosen based on their performances in the last four tournaments. #IndiaKaGame pic.twitter.com/0wx2HXLf2R— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) March 13, 2018
The Sardar-led Indian side finish fifth out of six teams at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup last week in Malaysia. India, having gone with an experimental side, recorded their only win in the group stage against Malaysia. They lost to Ireland in their final group game, but managed to beat them 4-1 in the fifth-sixth standing play-off to avoid complete embarrassment.
"Sardar is not in the 18 and that means he has not convinced us enough through his performance in the Azlan Shah Cup," Marijne told reporters on Tuesday (March 13). "It was not just the tournaments we look at but also how well they perform in training. We picked three others in midfield. These three performed well in the matches against New Zealand and Belgium. Their overview has been good."
Ramandeep Singh scored four goals in six appearances, the highest by an Indian, at the Azlan Shah Cup. However, Marijne chose variety by picking Diljeet Singh and Akashdeep Singh instead of Ramandeep.
"Ramandeep Singh did well in the Azlan Shah Cup. But we chose Dilpreet as he can also play in the midfield, which could be an added option for us. That apart, Akashdeep is the new addition. We compared the work rate and pace and picked Akashdeep over Ramandeep," Marijne added.
Sardar and Ramandeep will continue to be part of the core group. Marijne said he will dissect the camp into two groups of 24 each with one forming the core group and the other a developmental side.
India bagged a silver in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, losing to World No 1 Australia in the final. This time too, a silver is the minimum India should aim for, given Australia will be playing at home. The squad will leave for Gold Coast on March 27 to turn in a few training sessions before the Commonwealth Games. India has been grouped in Pool B alongside Pakistan, Malaysia, Wales, England and will begin their campaign on April 7 against Pakistan.
"Although this may sound like a cliché, the focus is on ourselves and it doesn't matter who our opponents are," Marijne said, referring to the opening game against India's arch-rivals. "We're are more busy on our preparations, which will also reduce the pressure on us. That said, we see videos of what the opponents do and train well and hard. Roelant Oltmans, the former India coach, has joined up with Pakistan and he knows our team really well. But we have changed since the last time he was here and play really different now."
With bigger tournaments lined up later this year like the Asian Games (August-September) and Hockey World Cup (November-December), Marjine said the Commonwealth Games in Australia will be the perfect time for the Indian side to get into a winning mentality for a tough year ahead of them. "The Commonwealth Games is important for us because we want to improve. Improvements can be shown in big tournaments, which helps us prepare for the next one better, which is the Asian Games. It's good to have the winning mentality before the big Asian Games and World Cup slated for this year. So far, we have won medals at all the official tournaments since I took over and winning medals in big tournaments like the CWG is important," Marijne added.