NEW DELHI (TIP): Ace midfielder Sardar Singh will lead a full strength Indian men’s hockey team in the 24th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup to be held in Ipoh, Malaysia from April 5 to 12.

The Azlan Shah Cup despite being an invitational tournament, India have gone for a strong 18-member squad with just three changes from the last December’s Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar.

Midfielder Danish Mujtaba, striker Lalit Upadhyay and defender Gurjinder Singh are the three players to miss out and in their places midfielder Chinglensana Singh and forwards Satbir Singh and Mandeep Singh have been drafted into the side.

While Sardar will captain the side, goalkeeper PR Sreejesh will continue to be his deputy.

Besides two goalkeepers — Sreejesh and Harjot Singh –, the squad will have five defenders in Gurbaj Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Birendra Lakra, Kothajit Singh and VR Raghunath.

The midfield will be under the leadership of skillful Sardar and he will be assisted by Manpreet Singh, Dharamvir Singh, Chinglensana and SK Uthappa, while Ramadeep Singh, SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah, Satbir and Mandeep will form India’s forwardline.

The Azlan Shah Cup will also be Dutchman Paul van Ass’ first assignment as the new chief coach of the Indian men’s hockey team.

“The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will be my first tournament as the coach of this team and I look forward to a positive start by doing well in this tournament,” Van Ass said after the selection of the team today.

“The players and I are still trying to know each other both, professionally as well as on the personal front. By the intensity and efforts put in by these players on the field, during the preparations, gives me much confidence in this team and a hope to have a great start as one unit. I have seen them play in Champions Trophy last year and they are turning into a formidable line-up who are keen to take on new challenges.” 

Talking about the Azlan Shah-bound team, captain Sardar said, “The team composition is almost the same as Champions Trophy, although we have three new inclusions — Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Satbir Singh and Mandeep Singh. All three will help boost our options for attack.

“I think their contribution for their respective teams in Hockey India League 2015 helped them make a comeback into the national squad.” 

Besides India and hosts Malaysia, the other participating nations in this year’s Azlan Shah Cup are Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Canada.

India will play their first match against Korea on April 5 followed by games against New Zealand (April 6), Malaysia (April 8), Canada (April 9) and Australia (April 11). 

Squad: 

Goalkeepers: PR Sreejesh, Harjot Singh 

Defenders: Gurbaj Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Birendra Lakra, Kothajit Singh, VR Raghunath 

Midfielders: Manpreet Singh, Sardar Singh, Dharamvir Singh, Chinglensana Singh, SK Uthappa 

Forwards: Ramandeep Singh, SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah, Satbir Singh, Mandeep Singh.