There is a touch of ingenuity and imagination in the approach work of the new Dutch coach for the Indian hockey team, Paul van Ass.
This reflects well in the selection of the team for the Hockey World League (HWL) semi-finals to come off at Antwerp (Belgium) from June 20 to July 5.
The HWL is linked now to the Olympics in Rio as a qualification event, but it does not concern India much as it is already assured of the place after winning the Asian Games gold at Incheon.
What however makes this event an important one for the team as also to the coach is the opportunity to combat against the top outfits like Australia, Pakistan, France and others.
Undoubtedly, this will be another litmus test for the coach who obtained a moderate level of success on his first outing at the recent Azlan Shah hockey tournament at Ipoh where India won a bronze after dipping into a hopeless position.
Some eyebrows are likely to be raised over the selection, which keeps out penalty corner striker Rupinderpal Singh, midfielder Mandeep and the striker Uthappa.
Van Ass has logically met with the developing skepticism over the omissions. He has argued rather convincingly the need to shuffle and experiment in competitions where India has nothing much to lose.
By recalling the young Yuvaraj Walmiki and giving a greater role Jasjit Singh Kular in the defense and in penalty corners, van Ass has taken a right step.
At one point of time not long ago, Walmiki was regarded as the enfant terrible of Indian hockey from Mumbai. He played a significant role in India winning the first Asian Champions Trophy at Ordos (Mongolia) under the Aussie coach, Nobbs, who laid a lot of hopes on this youngster. Injuries and a lack of a confidence by subsequent coaches kept him away from the national side. In the current dispensation, Walmiki should be seen as the substitute for Uthappa.
The basic architecture of the team remains undisturbed. All the top stars who have contributed immensely to enlarging the image of the country like Sreejesh, skipper, Sardar Singh, and veterans Gurbaj Singh, Birendra Lakra and S V Sunil are very much part of the squad.
India faces France in the opening match, but comes to grips with Pakistan in the next outing. Understandably, Pakistan is desperate to be back at the Olympics after missing the World Cup in The Hague last year.
More importantly, it will go all out to avoid a defeat against India after the ugly encounter win in the semi-finals during the Champions Trophy at Bhubaneswar.
Admittedly, there will be a lot of attention on India’s showing at Antwerp, especially in the light of the fact India is hosting the final of the HWL for the top eight teams here at Chattisgarh in December.
India is grouped with France, Poland, Pakistan and Australia in Pool A, while Pool B consists of China, Ireland, Malaysia, Great Britain and the host Belgium.
Goalkeepers: P.R.Sreejesh and Harjot Singh;
Defenders: Manpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra, V.R.Raghunath, Jasjit Singh Khular, Gurmail Singh;
Midfielders: Gurbaj Singh, Dharamvir Singh, Sardar Singh, Chinglesena Singh, Lalith Upadyaya;
Forwards: S.V.Sunil, Nikkhin Thimmiah, Yuvaraj Walmiki, Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh.