It is difficult to share the optimism of the selectors, or the chief coach, over the composition of the National team for the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament.
Under the cover of ‘the best available' clause, there is a veneer of scepticism in the overall competence of the squad set to defend the cup with South Korea at Ipoh from May 5.
The combination is fragile in the absence of those who performed meritoriously at the last Asian Games at Guangzhou and earlier.
The injury concerns of Tushar Khandekar and the former skipper Rajpal Singh can be accepted without any scrutiny.
Mature view needed
But the selectors could have taken a more mature view of Sardara Singh and Sandeep Singh. Their disqualification from figuring in the National squad is the result of their failure to attend the training camp in Delhi.
There is confirmation that both had informed the administration of their league engagements in Belgium during that period, but the complaint is that they had not followed the procedure to take official sanction to skip the camp.
The selection committee or the administration could have easily condoned this because the two star players were not on a furlough but playing in a tough European league competition, far more worthy than the routine, melancholic coaching camps.
Taking a realistic view of the challenge that awaits at Ipoh, it can be safely assumed that India should be extremely lucky to play in another final on May 15.
The only positive development is the elevation of Arjun Halappa as captain, a slot long overdue, given his versatility.
Of course, the selectors and the administration had their preferences on the issue of captaincy that often lacked the canons of logic. With over 230 international caps, he is probably the most accomplished player on the national scene.
His mettle as the leader will be put to the test. He will definitely miss the presence of Spanish coach Jose Brasa, as many others will in the squad. Why Brasa is not there needs no documentation in this narration.
The return of Adrian under the bar is another positive element, and this will supplement the energy and efficiency of the tested and tried Bharath Chettri. Defender Mahadik will be compelled to take more pressure on him in the absence of the brilliant Sardara.
Penalty-corner striker Diwakar Ram is no comparison to Sandeep Singh. How he shapes up also remains a question.
The mid-field reflects the real strength, or whatever is conjured up as one good trait in the squad, thanks to Gurbaj Singh and Vikram Pillay.
It is unclear whether Halappa will take a spot there or in the attack, which anyway does not look sharp without Tushar and Rajpal. Shivendra can make up for this frailty along with Roshan Minz, whose potential is yet to touch the peak.
More than anyone, it is Harendra Singh who is in an unenviable position in his new-found position as chief coach.
It is imprudent at this point to discuss his credentials, or the circumstances, that had catapulted him to the top.
While one cannot refrain from being amazed at his resilience to be in the national focus for years which many more famous than him could not do with any measure of comfort, his stint with the ingenuous Brasa and the coaches course he attended at the last Champions Trophy in Monchengladbach should have enriched his ability to handle a national squad as the principal tactician.
We will have to wait and watch.
Keywords: Azlan Shah Cup