Bengaluru: Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh will miss India's four-nation hockey challenge in Australia later this month. In his absence, experienced drag-flicker VR Raghunath will return to the side to lead the Indian men's team.
Raghunath, who was rested for last month's Asian Champions Trophy in Kuantan, Malaysia, has returned to the 18-member side. Sreejesh will miss out on the tournament as he continues to recuperate from a knee injury sustained in the Asian Champions Trophy semi-final against South Korea.
Defender and drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who was the top scorer in Malaysia, will be Raghunath's deputy for the tour Down Under. In Sreejesh's absence, Akash Chikte will continue shouldering the responsibility of goalkeeping, while Uttar Pradesh's Abhinav Kumar Pandey will be the second custodian in the squad.
Chikte came up with an outstanding performance in the ACT final against arch-rivals Pakistan to help India clinch the title. "Abhinav has been in and out of the camps. He has had a knee injury for a while, but has made a strong comeback and we are pleased with his performance in this camp," said India's chief coach Roelant Oltmans.
Besides Sreejesh, senior strikers SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh will also miss the tournament with injuries. While Sunil is yet to fully recover from the wrist injury he sustained at the Rio Olympics, Ramandeep, who replaced Sunil for Malaysia, has been sidelined because of health issues.
"Both Sreejesh and Sunil will remain in SAI for rehabilitation. Also, Sreejesh has willingly stepped up to spend some time with the junior team's goalkeepers. He has already starting working with them and will assist Dave Staniforth, who is joining us next week. This is great for the young boys and sharing his experience with them ahead of the Junior World Cup," Oltmans said.
Oltmans will also stay with the junior team, while strategic coach Roger van Gent will accompany the senior team to Australia. Ace midfielder Manpreet Singh and forward Akashdeep Singh have also made comebacks to the squad after being rested in the Asian Champions Trophy.
Besides India and hosts Australia, the four-nation tournament will feature Malaysia and New Zealand. The tournament will start on 23 November and will be followed by a Test series between India and Australia.
Skipper Raghunath said he's upbeat about the team's chances in Australia. "The Asian Champions Trophy win has boosted the morale of the players and the team's spirit is high. However, playing in Australia is a different challenge and we are up for it. We have beaten Australia in their home earlier in 2014, and we will be looking for a repeat performance this time too," he said.
Goalkeepers: Akash Chikte, Abhinav Kumar Pandey
Defenders: VR Raghunath (captain), Rupinder Pal Singh (vice-captain), Pardeep Mor, Birendra Lakra, Kothajit Singh, Surender Kumar
Midfielders: Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Manpreet Singh, Sardar Singh, S K Uthappa
Forwards: Talwinder Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah, Affan Yousuf, Mohammad Amir Khan, Satbir Singh, Akashdeep Singh