Sreejesh, Raghu rested for Azlan Shah

Sreejesh, Raghu rested for Azlan Shah

Clutch of fresh faces named in the squad under Sardar Singh

Sreejesh, Raghu rested for Azlan Shah

Sardar Singh will lead a new look 18-member hockey team for Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia from April 6-16.

Besides India, defending champions New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, Japan, Canada and hosts Malaysia will be participating in the tournament. The Indian squad is without several experienced players, who have been rested for the tournament, keeping in mind the hectic schedule that awaits them in the Olympic year.

Ace goalkeeper and vice-captain PR Sreejesh has been excused from the tournament along with dragflicker VR Raghunath, forward Akashdeep Singh and midfielder Dharamvir Singh, while defender Birendra Lakra will miss out due to an injury. Sreejesh has made way for young Akash Anil Chikt. Surender Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Harjeet Singh are the other new faces in the squad while SK Uthappa, Mandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah return to the side.

In absence of Sreejesh, SV Sunil has been appointed the vice-captain of the experimental squad. The team has been training at SAI Centre in Bangalore from March 7.

“India has a good record in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and we would like to keep it that way. Teams like Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan and not to forget hosts Malaysia will give the team critical competition exposure. It will be a good opportunity to try out new things and new combinations in the tournament,” said skipper Sardar. The team has been working on its tendency to concede late goals and will be testing their progress in the tournament.

"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," said chief coach Roelant Oltmans.

“In the past we have conceded late goals that have taken away the games from us. We want to eliminate that particular weakness. We have been working on it for some time now, which we will be able to put to test in the tournament.” Indian has enjoyed a good run in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup since its initiation as a biennial tournament in 1983. It became an annual affair from 1994. India has won the prestigious tournament five times in 1985, ’91, ’95, 2009 and 2010. It earned bronze on six occasions and finished runners-up once in 2008.