The Indian hockey men’s team have their task cut out. With major tournaments like the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Champions Trophy and the World Cup lined up this year, coach Sjoerd Marijne has decided to put his faith in the youngsters.

By dropping experienced hands such as Ramandeep Singh and Sardar Singh, who were a part of the two previous CWG campaigns, Marijne has put the onus of the upcoming generation of players to ensure a gold medal finish at Gold Coast, Australia next month.

Youthful approach

Under 25-year-old Manpreet Singh, who was a part of the CWG squad that bagged silver in the last edition in Glasgow, India has successfully passed the captain’s armband from PR Sreejesh to the midfielder. Manpreet guided India to an Asia Cup win and also helped them secure bronze HWL Final last year as Sreejesh was nursing a knee injury.

India have played the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup this month, where they finished 5th. A surprise factor was inclusion of youngsters such as Krishan Pathak, Shailanand Lakra, Mandeep Mor and Dipsan Tirkey, among others. Sardar and Ramandeep were also a part of the squad as the likes of Manpreet, Harmanpreet Singh, Sreejesh, SV Sunil, Lalit Upadhyay, among others were rested.

Hence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ramandeep and Sardar were dropped keeping in mind the CWG squad. Sardar was earlier dropped for the HWL by Marijne, but was recalled to captain the side for Sultan Azlan Shah Cup recently.

Fitness and youthful exuberance is the road ahead for Indian hockey according to the selectors and coach.

Sturdy defence, potent strikers

With the likes of Harmanpreet, Varun Kumar, Rupinder Pal, Kothajit Singh, Gurinder Singh and Amit Rohidas, India’s defence looks strong, stocked with experience. Rupinder, Rohidas and Kothajit are seasoned players who can shepherd the backline. The only flaw that one can point out is India faring poorly in converting penalty corners. It is up to Harmanpreet and Rupinder to lead from the front but Marijne does have options in that department as Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas have proved to be able drag-flickers as well. Variations are the key. With analytical coach Chris Ciriello at their disposal, one can see a change of fortunes in Australia.

Going forward, India has plenty of firepower with a line-up of Akashdeep Singh, SV Sunil, Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay and Dilpreet Singh. The onus is on young Akashdeep to spearhead the attack, filling the void left by Ramandeep. In Sunil and Upadhyay he has able players that can feed him the ball from the flanks. Gurjant too has proved his mettle and will itching to make a name for himself on the big stage.

Problematic midfield

The only glitch in the squad is the lack of depth in the midfield. Manpreet, K Chinglensana Singh, Sumit and Vivek Sagar Prasad have the skill required to play in the big games. However, injury to one of these players will be a cause of concern. Another issue is their playmaking abilities that can haunt India against the likes of England and Australia.

One cannot expect to score on the counter at all times against them due to their defensive strengths. A playmaker is a must. In Sardar, India had an able playmaker who played a defensive role as well. The current midfield will have to address this issue. They will have to be quick and inventive in midfield.

Sreejesh returns

Sreejesh will be eager to see a podium finish since he missed out in the Asia Cup and HWL Final due to injury. He had a decent tour of New Zealand in January and was rested ahead of the CWG to give him ample recovery time. Without the captaincy pressure, Sreejesh will mentally be more relaxed and motivated.

In Suraj Karkera he has an able deputy. The youngster performed beyond expectations in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup as well as Asia Cup and HWL Final. He displaced Akash Chikte who was India’s second choice after Sreejesh. In Malaysia, he guided Pathak well and pulled of plenty of good saves against England and Australia.

A gold-medal finish?

India have been drawn in Pool B along with England, Malaysia, Pakistan and Wales. The top two teams from each pool advance to semi-finals while the teams that finish third to fifth in each pool head to classification rounds.

India face a stern test against England. However, against the likes of Malaysia, Pakistan and Wales, they can expect wins. In Pool A, Australia and New Zealand are expected to advance based on their world ranking. India, in all likelihood, will face New Zealand if they top their group or then face favourites Australia, if they finish second.

India have faced Australia in the previous two finals of the CWG and ended up with the silver medal. However, this time, with the squad they have, a gold-medal finish is a possibility.