Experienced midfielder Gurbaj Singh returned to the national hockey team on Friday after almost two years while drag-flicker Sandeep Singh continued to be ignored as the selectors named a 21-member squad for a 10-day preparatory tour of the Netherlands from April 9 to 19.
Gurbaj had been out of favour since he last donned India colours at the London Olympics in 2012 but fought his way back with an impressive performance at this year’s Hockey India League. The right-half was also instrumental in helping Delhi Waveriders win the title.
“He is an outstanding player, hats off to how much work he has done in his own environment outside the national camp,” coach Terry Walsh had said during practice.
“The coach has reposed faith in me, and my target now is to make sure I contribute as much as I can to the team,” Gurbaj said on his return to the side.
“Being in and out of the team should not affect the effort being put into improving your game. The only thing that kept me going in these two years was self-belief and the fact that I love hockey,” Gurbaj added.
Sandeep, however, failed to impress the selectors and the team management, which believed he needed more time to adjust to the team’s speed and level of training.
Sandeep, top-scorer at the HIL, also out since the 2012 Olympics, made a brief return to the side for the Hockey World League Round 3 last year before being dumped again.
Others making a comeback to the national side include talented Danish Mujtaba, down for a year with a shin injury, and forward Yuvraj Walmiki. Strikers Lalit Upadhyay and Devinder Walmiki would make their senior India debut along with defender Gurinder Singh.
Meanwhile, young strikers Mandeep Singh and Gurwinder Singh Chandi are out with injuries while Affan Yousuf has been ignored. The team would play five games — two each against the Dutch national side and club sides and one against Belgium — at The Hague on the build-up tour ahead of the World Cup (May 31-June 15).
Goalkeepers: P.R. Sreejesh, Harjot Singh; Defenders: Birendra Lakra, Rupinder Pal Singh, V.R. Raghunath, Kothajit Singh, Gurinder Singh; Gurbaj Singh; Midfielders: Sardar Singh, S.K. Uthappa, Dharamvir Singh, Manpreet Singh, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Danish Mujtaba, Devinder Walmiki; Forwards: S.V. Sunil, Nikkin Thimmaiah, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Yuvraj Walmiki, Lalit Upadhyay.