The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is scheduled to take place next month in Malaysia and India has generally been accustomed to sending a full strength hockey team over the years. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has been a consistent performer over the years for India and his performances have made him a sure starter in the squad.
However India has decided to rest their number one goal keeper and have decided to send in his second in command Harjot Singh and the inexperienced Akash Chikte to gain some valuable experience. India have also decided to rest their main coach Roelant Oltmans as both Sreejesh and Oltmans have had a busy schedule over the last couple of years and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) thought it best for both of them to get some much needed rest before the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
While few will argue that Sreejesh was due a rest, the move still comes as a surprise considering the fact that the team’s main coach in the past few years have been adamant on playing Sreejesh in every game due to his performance and reliability. The move to rest him could be a blessing in disguise for Harjot Singh and Chikte as they need the exposure and experience for India to be able to count on a suitable replacement for Sreejesh in the future.
India will be sending across an 18 member squad to take part in the Azlan Shah Cup which will also feature Australia, Canada, Pakistan, Japan and hosts Malaysia.
While the regular line-up for the squad consists of experienced players, the coach wanted to test India’s bench strength before the Olympics and believes the tournament in Malaysia will be a nice test for fringe players.
In a statement, Oltmans said “The boys have been working hard as a unified unit and are geared up for the tournament ahead. Azlan Shah will be a good testing ground for us right before the Rio Olympics and will be very crucial for the team. We are focused on improving the game technically and implement the right strategies.”
India have done well in the past winning the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 1985, 1991,1995, 2009 and 2010 and were runners up in 2008. They have also secured a bronze medal at the tournament on six occasions but have not had a good showing during the last six years. The team which has a nice balance of veterans and youngsters will be looking to put in a good performance and try cement their places for the Olympics.