Hockey World Cup 2018: Profiling India's 18-man squad for showpiece event in Bhubaneswar

FP Sports
In this Firstpost series of Legend's Voice, VR Raghunath dwells on India's 5-0 win over South Africa and looks ahead to the game against Belgium.

India are expected to face an uphill battle playing in front of the vociferous home support at the Kalinga Stadium at the 2018 Hockey World Cup.

Despite being the most successful team in Olympic hockey with eight golds, India have won the World Cup only once, way back in 1975.

Despite playing at home, it will be sort of miracle if World No 5 India managed to break this long barren run.

Under current coach Harendra Singh, the Indian team has shown a lot of promise. Since taking over from the previous incumbent, Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne in May this year, Harendra has guided the team to silver at the Champions Trophy, a bronze at the Asian Games and the Asian Champions Trophy title. Before that, India had finished fourth at the 2018 Commonwealth Games under Marijne's watch.

Harendra Singh's 18-man-squad is a mixture of youth and experience giving Indian fans hopes of a first World Cup since 1975.

PR Sreejesh

Age: 30

Position: Goalkeeper

Caps: 204

PR Sreejesh hails from Kerala and is considered as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He made his debut for the national team in 2006 at the South Asian Games in Sri Lanka. He was adjudged as the Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament at the 2008 Junior Asia Cup where India won the gold medal. Sreejesh became a regular fixture in the national team in 2011, the year in which he made two match-winning saves in the final of the Asian Champions Trophy against Pakistan.

A stalwart between the sticks, the 30-year-old has represented the nation at the 2014 World Cup, 2012 & 2016 Olympic Games, but his best performances in an Indian jersey came in the year 2014 as he was nominated for the Best Male Goalkeeper the Year award by FIH. He saved two penalty strokes in the 2014 Asian Games final against Pakistan to give his team the gold medal. In 2016, Sreejesh was appointed as the captain and led the team to the silver medal at the Champions Trophy.

Krishan B Pathak

Age: 21

Position: Goalkeeper

Caps: 21

The young goalkeeper hails from Punjab and made his debut for the senior team earlier this year when he played deputy to the returning PR Sreejesh at the Four Nations Invitational Tournament in New Zealand. The 21-year-old is a product of the Surjit Singh Hockey Academy and progressed through the ranks after playing for Punjab's junior team in the National Championships. Pathak played a crucial role in helping India win the Junior World Cup in 2016. His first honours with the senior team came in the 2018 Champions Trophy where India won the silver medal.

Harmanpreet Singh

Age: 22

Position: Defender

Caps: 90

The 22-year-old defender from Punjab made his international debut in 2015 during a four-match series against Japan in Bhubaneswar where he made two appearances. However, the youngster's next call-up to the national side came in 2016 at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where India won the silver medal.

Harmanpreet won another silver medal with the national team at the 2016 Champions Trophy and represented the country at the Olympic Games in the same year. He was a crucial member of the team that won the 2016 Junior World Cup. Harmanpreet has won many medals with the national team €" a gold medal at the 2017 Asia Cup, bronze at the Hockey World League final 2017, silver at the 2018 Champions Trophy and bronze at the 2018 Asian Games.

Birendra Lakra

Age: 28

Position: Defender

Caps: 168

Birendra Lakra and made his senior team debut in the South Asian Games in 2010. He was included in the Indian junior team for the first time for the tour of Singapore in 2007. The 28-year-old played an important role in taking India to the semi-finals of 2012 Champions Trophy and he was also a part of the team that won gold at the 2014 Asian Games. He was a key player in the side as India won the bronze medal at Hockey World League final in 2015.

He not only got a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games 2014 but also featured in India's bronze medal outing at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2012. He was also part of the Indian team that won bronze at the 2018 Asian Games.

Varun Kumar

Age: 23

Position: Defender

Caps: 59

Varun Kumar made his international debut in the Europe Tour of Belgium and Netherlands in 2017. Kumar started off his career at the Junior National Championships in 2012 when he represented his state and was soon selected to be a part of the junior national team.

However, an injury saw him miss out on a spot in the team that participated at the 2013 Junior Hockey World Cup. But consistency at the state level, coupled with impressive performances in the Hockey India League saw him being recalled to the junior national team set-up. His ability to read the game and stay calm in crunch situations has seen him make a mark at the senior level as well, with his drag-flicks also being an advantage for the young Indian team. He was also a part of the team that won a bronze medal at the Hockey World League Final, the silver medal at the 2018 Champions Trophy and the bronze at the 2018 Asian Games.

Kothajit Singh Khadangbam

Age: 26

Position: Defender

Caps: 186

A solid defender, Kothajit comes with oodles of experience and displays a character that is calm and composed even under pressure. He made his international debut in 2012 London Olympic Games. Since then, he has been a regular member of the Indian team and has been a part of the team which won the silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. In the final of the 2014 Asian Games against Pakistan, Kothajit scored a brilliant equaliser as India went on to win the gold medal. He was part of the Indian team that played in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Kothajit performed well at the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat where India shared the spoils with Pakistan.

Surender Kumar

Age: 24

Position: Defender

Caps: 103

Surender Kumar made his international debut at the 2013 Asian Champions Trophy. The 24-year-old came through the ranks of the junior team set-up where he made his debut in 2012. His performances in the Hockey India League and domestic circuit saw him getting selected regularly in the senior team in 2016, and since then he has participated at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 2017 Asia Cup and the 2018 Champions Trophy. Surender's strong defensive skills have seen him cement his place in the Indian squad and he won the bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games.

Amit Rohidas

Age: 25

Position: Defender

Caps: 69

Amit Rohidas made his international debut at the 2013 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. After making a memorable debut in the junior squad at the U-18 Asia Cup in 2009, Rohidas was part of the junior squad right up to the 2013 Junior Hockey World Cup. He often found a place in the senior camp too and even played at the 2014 World League Final. However, after not getting into the national side for close to two years, the defender finally made a comeback to the national team in 2017 after having proved his mettle in the Hockey India League.

Since his comeback, he has impressed with his drag-flicks and defensive duties and has been a part of the gold medal-winning team at the 2017 Asia Cup and the silver medal-winning team at the 2018 Champions Trophy. A preferred first-rusher in PC defending for India, Rohidas was picked for the marquee event after being rested for the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy.

Manpreet Singh (Captain)

Age: 26

Position: Midfielder

Caps: 238

The 26-year-old midfielder hails from Punjab and made his international debut in the year 2011 aged just 19. He has since represented the country at all major tournaments and featured in India's fine victories at the 2014 Asian Games and the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy.

Manpreet won his first gold medal when his team lifted the Sultan of Johor Cup in 2013. His on-field creativity and leadership skills have seen him grow into one of the mainstays of the team. To his credit, he was also made the captain of the national team last year and led the team to important victories, which include a gold medal at the 2017 Asia Cup and the bronze medal at the Hockey World League final 2017.

The midfielder last captained the team during the Commonwealth Games 2018 and helped India win the silver medal at the 2018 Champions Trophy. He was renamed captain of the side for the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy and will lead the team at the 2018 Hockey World Cup.

Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (Vice-Captain)

Age: 26

Position: Midfielder

Caps: 199

Chinglensana Singh Kangujam made his International debut in 2011 at the Champions Challenge in South Africa. The 26-year-old Manipuri won his first medal with India at the 2013 Asia Cup where they won silver. The Indian vice-captain was also a member of the team that won silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and gold at the 2014 Asian Games. Chinglensana has been a vital cog in India's midfield and has helped the team win gold at the 2017 Asia Cup, bronze at the Men's Hockey World League Final 2017 and bronze at the 2018 Asian Games.

Nilakanta Sharma

Age: 23

Position: Midfielder

Caps: 25

Climbing up the ranks in the Indian team is Manipur's Nilakanta Sharma. The diminutive yet fierce midfielder was part of the Junior World Cup-winning team and hails from a state that thrives on its football prowess. Closely following the footsteps of his senior state-mates Kothajit Singh and Chinglensana Singh, Nilakanta left home at an early stage, moving to Bhopal when he was just 16. Nilakanta made his senior national debut in July 2017 against Belgium during India's Europe tour and also represented India A which participated in the Australia Hockey League later that year. After playing in the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament earlier this year, Nilakanta by his own admission 'wanted to improve his game' and worked on it with all earnestness.

Hardik Singh

Age: 20

Position: Midfielder

Caps: 6

Hailing from a family of hockey players, Hardik Singh is a versatile player with abilities to switch between midfield and defence. He was part of 2016 Junior World Cup core probable group and honed his skills under the tutelage of Harendra Singh. Though he did not make the cut for the tournament, Hardik was named in the Indian junior core probable group in 2017 and trained under coach and former India captain Jude Felix. He was part of the Indian Colts team that won bronze at the Sultan of Johor Cup last year and also played in the Junior Team's tour of Belgium. He made his senior international debut at the Asian Champions Trophy where he impressed with his performance that led to his selection for the 2018 Hockey World Cup.

Sumit

Age: 21

Position: Midfielder

Caps: 49

Among the fittest players in the team with his Yo-Yo scores averaging around 22.5 to 23.5, Sumit brings tremendous energy into the Indian midfield. He shares a good understanding with the forwards and acts as a vital link between the midfield and the forward line. As part of the Indian junior team, Sumit won accolades for his performance in the Junior World Cup that saw him getting picked for the senior core group soon after. Having made his senior debut in 2017, Sumit played the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast earlier this year after which he played at the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy.

Mandeep Singh

Age: 23

Position: Forward

Caps: 125

One of the youngest to break into the Indian team, Mandeep Singh's unconventional ways of creating scoring opportunities make him a standout member in India's forward-line. It was his stint at Hockey India League, during the 2012-13 season that saw him emerge as a potential star. He made his International debut in 2013 at the Hockey World League Round 2 and since has been the regular feature in the team's attack. He was also part of the team that won the Junior World Cup in 2016. He was part of the team that won the 2017 Asia Cup, the bronze medal at 2017 Men's Hockey World League Final and won his 100th international cap for India during the 2018 Commonwealth Games. He was also a part of the team that won the silver medal at the 2018 Champions Trophy.

Akashdeep Singh

Age: 23

Position: Forward

Caps: 174

A vital member of India's forward-line, 23-year-old Akashdeep Singh's ability to create scoring opportunities makes him a danger man for the opponents. He leads the team's attack with pace and vigour, his performance often notching up crucial victories for the team. He made his India debut at the 2012 Champions Trophy and was part of the Indian squad that won the 2014 Asian Games gold. He was also a part of the teams which won silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and bronze at the 2015 World Hockey League Final. Having been rested for the New Zealand Tour and the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2018, Akashdeep Singh made a comeback during the Commonwealth Games 2018.

Dilpreet Singh

Age: 19

Position: Forward

Caps: 36

Dilpreet Singh made his India debut at the Four Nations Invitational Tournament in New Zealand earlier this year. The young forward started off his career at the domestic level with Hockey Punjab. His performances in the domestic circuit saw him being named in the junior team core probables in 2017, and he was later selected to represent the country at the 7th Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia in 2017. His nine goals at the tournament where India finished third, saw him being drafted to the senior team.

Lalit Kumar Upadhyay

Age: 24

Position: Forward

Caps: 89

Having patiently waited for his turn to be part of the Indian Team, Lalit Upadhyay has made great amends to his game that has won him a spot in the forward line. The 24-year-old from Varanasi has been a regular member in the senior core group since 2014. It was his consistent performances during the Hockey India League for Kalinga Lancers that brought him to the reckoning. He scored in India's crucial matches at the 2017 Men's Asia Cup which India eventually won beating Malaysia in the final.

Simranjeet Singh

Age: 21

Position: Forward

Caps: 24

The 21-year-old Punjabi is a product of the Surjit Singh Hockey Academy. The midfielder impressed the selectors with his exploits in the national championship in 2014 and was selected for the side which won the Junior Men's World Cup in 2016. His consistent performances for the junior team saw him being given his senior team debut in 2018 during the Four Nations Invitational Tournament in New Zealand.

Also See: Hockey World Cup 2018: India vice-captain Chinglensana Singh Kangujam says it's time to deliver in tournament

Hockey World Cup 2018: Hosts India hope to overcome limitations, end 43-year itch in showpiece event

Hockey World Cup 2018: Unfazed by team's inexperience, coach Harendra Singh says Junior World Cup success will be handy

Read more on Sports by Firstpost.