India men’s hockey team have had an eventful four months. In September, they sacked coach Roelant Oltmans and replaced him with Sjoerd Marijne, who was coaching the women’s team. In October, they went on to win the Asia Cup. In November, they dropped veteran midfielder Sardar Singh for the Hockey World League Final and defended their bronze medal in the tournament.

However, by axing Sardar, the selection committee put the onus on youngsters to perform. With two wins out of four games, could Sardar’s experience make a difference? “I think they have done the right thing. It is a double-edged sword. If we don’t experiment then they will say youngsters have not got a chance and seniors have taken their place for granted. Best players have to prove themselves,” said former India captain Viren Rasquinha.

Former India coach Joaquim Carvalho said that the rotation of players initiated by Marijne is a good idea to try out combinations and without taking names said that they were senior players that have to be dropped. “Rotation of the players is a good idea. You are trying out all the combinations and some places are definitely over the hill. You have to admit that. One of two senior players have to go,” said Carvalho.

Comeback on the cards

Image credit: Hockey India

Marijne, in an ear interview withe The Field, said that Sardar’s was dropped because he wanted to field Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra at the back with Harmanpreet Singh. In the Asia Cup, Sardar was seen playing as a defender. Many seem to think that the 31-year-old is not quick enough in the midfield, and with Manpreet Singh and Co quick and attacking hockey, Sardar was better off in the back line.

However, former India captain Dhanraj Pillay backed the midfielder to make a comeback. “In Asia Cup, the type of hockey he played no one can drop him. He is the fittest guy out there. Sardar has played for almost 14 years, he will definitely be back in the World Cup squad and he will prove himself and make the India team. He is one of the most experienced centre-halves. Whether you need a full-back or a forward line, he is available,” said Pillay.

This is not the first time that Sardar was dropped this year. He was omitted by former coach Roelant Oltmans for the Europe tour as well. However, Marijne insisted that 31-year-old has a future with the team. With the World Cup a year away, Singh’s chances of featuring in the squad seems under scrutiny. However, he did say that the standards are high to be selected in the team.

Rasquinha felt that Sardar has to prove himself first. “Sardar has to prove himself in training and in tournaments whenever he gets the opportunity. It is all about current form and current fitness. We should not care about sentiments too much,” said Rasquinha.