New Delhi: The national hockey team’s preparatory camp for the inaugural Afro-Asian Games got off to a lukewarm start at the National Stadium here on Tuesday.
The only stars present were forward Deepak Thakur and goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan as just 14 of the 26 probables turned up. Midfielder Viren Rasquinha joined late in the evening after attending a felicitation at Mumbai. Amongst the coaches, only chief coach Rajinder Singh was present. His assistant Baldev Singh, goalkeeping coach A.B. Subbiah and trainer Sampath Kumar are expected in the night.
Rajinder said the remaining players are expected by night or Wednesday morning. The Punjab-based players — Gagan Ajit Singh, Prabhjot Singh and Kanwalpreet Singh — were honoured by the state government. Each received a cheque of Rs. 75,000. According to Rajinder, the Punjab government has announced a sum of Rs. 5 lakh for the treatment of Jugraj Singh.
Initially, the IHF had released the names of 24 probables for the Afro-Asian Games. But on Rajinder’s insistence, two more goalkeepers Bharat Chhetri (Centre of Excellence, Bangalore) and P.U. Bopanna (Sikh Regimental Centre) have been added. Both were present on Tuesday.
“A 16-member squad will be selected,” Rajinder said. The coach is looking at five newcomers as, according to him, 11 players are automatic selections.
They are goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan, defenders Dilip Tirkey and Kanwalpreet Singh, midfielders Bimal Lakra, Vikram Pillay, Ignace Tirkey and Rasquinha and forwards Gagan Ajit, Thakur, Prabhjot and Sandeep Michael.
The reserve goalkeeper’s slot is likely to go to either Chhetri or Mumbai’s junior international Adrian D’Souza.
Defence, Rajinder admits, is a problem area for him as “there are no replacements for Jugraj Singh”. He feels Len Aiyappa is good as a drag flicker but slow on the field. Newcomers Harpal Singh of Namdharis or junior international Sandeep Singh may get a look in.
In midfield, highly-rated junior international Prabodh Tirkey, Ignace’s younger brother, could be included. For the two places upfront, there is stiff competition between Tushar Khandekar of Air India Academy, Adam Sinclair, Hari Prasad and Birendra Lakra (all COE Bangalore) and Sardar Singh (Namdharis).