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A happy development

S. Thyagarajan

— Photo: AP

BACK IN ACTION: The return of Sandeep Singh should strengthen the Indian side. — Photo: AP

Chennai: The return of drag-flicker Sandeep Singh to the national hockey team is a happy development. Laid low by a freak accident on way to New Delhi en-route to the 2006 World Championship at Monchengladbach, the bullet injury kept the trump card out of competitions for almost a year. The rehabilitation of Sandeep is a saga of courage, determination and a lesson in fortitude.

Whether Sandeep can pilot India into a position of strength in the Champions Challenge Cup at Boom from June 23 to July 1 is a poser that cannot be answered in the affirmative. That his comeback is bound to restore confidence goes without saying.

Pragmatic evaluation

The contrived media buoyancy over the bronze at the recent Azlan Shah tournament should be tempered by pragmatic evaluation. The opposition at Boom is varied and variegated. Essentially, it will be tough as there is a stake; the winner qualifies for the next Champions Trophy.

Teams like Belgium, New Zealand, England, Argentina and Japan are well prepared, motivated, and capable of stamping India's approach within a matter of minutes.

At the first blush, the 18 chosen have conformed to the view of chief coach, Carvalho; not to disturb the core element in the team. Changes, quite a handful, have been effected after a critical assessment of performance at Ipoh. The mid-field remains undisturbed unlike the rest of the layers.

The shuffle in the deep defence was expected. Flicker Raghunath perforce had to give way to the more-seasoned Sandeep. Veteran Dilip Tirkey returns to replace the error-prone, but hardworking Hardip Singh. Consistency has helped Xalco to retain his place. Sunil Yadav remains an untested quality.

Sad omission

Goal-keeper Bharat Chhetri's omission is sad considering the way he played in the only match he was chosen for — against South Korea — for the bronze medal. Carvalho's faith in Baljit Singh is unshaken. Adrian D'Souza has to prove that his inclusion in preference to Chhetri carries a filament of logic and reasoning.

By retaining left-half Prabodh Tirkey as captain the selectors have sent a message to Dilip Tirkey that the latter needs to concentrate more than getting bogged down to guiding the rest. The mid-field, headed by the energetic Bimal Lakra and supported well by Gurbaz and Vickram Kanth, shows a touch of solidity.

It is good that this important line is not altered in anyway although there were fears of a move to giving Viren Resquinha a chance following media criticism after dropping the pivot for the Asian Games at Doha.

Realistic step

The induction of Damandeep Singh is a realistic step to enhance the striking power. India missed far too many chances at Ipoh. If Damandeep performs as well as he did in the PHL then his addition will get the commendation. The frontline combination of Rajpal, Tushar, Chikkara, and Roshan Minz can be lethal.

The key element, or the link in the pack is Sardara Singh. Prabhjot Singh should count himself lucky to be persisted with. Taken on the whole, the selection conforms to a regulation guided by two important elements — pragmatism and logic.

India starts the campaign with a match against New Zealand on June 23.

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