Hockey India announced an 18-man squad on Thursday that will travel to Germany to play in a 3-nations invitational tournament along with Germany and Belgium and to the Hockey World League semi-final in London, England.
One of the notable exclusions from the squad was skipper P.R Sreejesh, who has been ruled out due to a knee injury. In his absence, Mandeep Singh was given responsibility of leading the side. The man to replace him between the sticks is Vikas Dahiya, who Sreejesh had helped train before the Junior Hockey World Cup in 2016.
The Junior World Cup winner was named as the replacement for P.R Sreejesh and he will be deputized by Akash Chikte in the 18-member squad. If there is one position the country have to never worry about producing quality talents it was the goalkeeper’s. However, recently the pool from which India plucks its keepers has narrowed down and due to which India had to rely heavily and at times be too over-dependent on Sreejesh.
The Indian captain sustained the knee injury playing for India during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match against Australia after he twisted his knee. The injury will keep him on the sidelines for three months. With virtually no one to fill his boots, the Indian hockey had anticipated that situation might arise one day. Hockey scouts have been diligently exploring the country to find the second choice goal keeper over the past one year. They even roped in foreign experts to organize goalkeeping clinics.
The Indian captain had trained the junior goalkeepers last year, a month ahead of the start of the Junior World Cup. The replacement eventually came in form of one of the goalkeepers that Sreejesh put in extra hours of training. Vikas Dahiya proved his mettle in the Junior WC including two crucial, stand-out penalty saves in the semi-finals versus Australia.
Dahiya revealed how one month of training with the Indian skipper made him a better goalkeeper. He also disclosed how India’s no 1 corrected his erroneous technique of swatting the ball towards the center rather than sideways.
India will first play an invitational tournament in Dusseldorf, Germany where they will play two matches each against the hosts Germany and Belgium on 1st June. The Hockey World League semi-final, which will start a fortnight later, will be the first major tournament of the year for the country and India will be looking at the performance of their stand-in goalkeepers. India is pooled together with Pakistan, Scotland, Netherlands and Canada in Group B.