The most prestigious junior hockey tournament, the FIH Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup, starts on November 24 at the heart of Indian hockey - Bhubaneswar, Odisha. The Indian team is being led by Arjuna awardee and Olympic bronze medalist Vivek Sagar Prasad, while drag-flicker Sanjay has been named his deputy.
While there are a few who will be making their debut for the junior side, most of them have been in the core group for the last two to three years and have been practicing together at the SAI Center in Bengaluru under the tutelage of coach BJ Kariappa. A little bit of inexperience might hurt the colts, as they have been devoid of exposure tours due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The junior men’s team reached Bhubaneswar on November 7 and has been working hard to get acclimatized to the weather and the stadium conditions. While senior team coach Graham Reid says this group of 18 is a well-balanced side with a lot of flexibility and flare, there are always key players who are keen to make a name for themselves.
We take a look at five players coach Kariappa can bank on to defend the coveted title.
A proven match-winner, Sudeep was India’s highest goal-scorer at the 2018 Youth Olympics in which India finished second. The lad from Odisha’s Sundargarh, which has produced numerous hockey internationals, will be the go-to man when it comes to scoring goals in this Junior World Cup.
His impeccable stick work inside the shooting circle makes him stand out. Opponents shouldn’t judge Sudeep based on his physical attributes, else his powerful Tomahawks will turn into nightmares for the opposition.
Vivek Sagar Prasad
Vivek, the most senior player in the team, will draw from his vast experience to help his team defend the trophy. Vivek was the captain of the 2018 silver-winning Youth Olympics team, and will be keen to make sure that he ends his last tournament with the junior team in style.
Vivek has been practicing with the senior team for a long time, courtesy of the Olympics, but has played all the tournaments that the India colts have been part of. As a midfield maestro and perhaps the next big thing in Indian hockey, the forwards will be heavily dependent on Vivek for the supply of good balls to them.
Prashant Chauhan (goalkeeper)
While both goalkeepers of the team, Prashant and Pawan, are equally good enough to be India’s first-choice custodian for this tournament, coach Kariappa might go with Prashant for his seniority and experience.
Prashant was Vivek’s deputy at the Youth Olympics in Argentina and has been a regular in the junior India setup for the last few years.
The six-foot tall Varanasi lad’s aggressive nature on the field makes him a difficult proposition to score against. The 21-year-old will be hungry to perform at his best in this tournament as this might get him a place in the senior India camp.
Rabichandra Singh Moirangthem
Rabi and Vivek will be leading India’s midfield and will be the heart and soul of the team. In Vivek’s absence, he was the man orchestrating swift movements and providing top-class balls to the forward line.
The Manipur boy hasn’t been dropped ever since he was drafted into the camp. His fiery slap shots have always been in focus. If India want to repeat what they did in 2016, Rabi will have to step up and do what the then captain Harjeet Singh did in winning the World Cup.
A tall, bulky defender from Chandigarh, Sanjay had captained the winning India team in the School Asia Cup in 2017. He hasn’t looked back since. A product of the Chandigarh Hockey Academy, Sanjay was also part of the 2018 Youth Olympics silver medal-winning team.
Son of a farmer, Sanjay idolizes ace drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh and aims to perform the same way as Harman did at the Olympics. Shardanand Tiwari and Sanjay will be India’s defense mainstays, and will also double up as specialist drag-flickers. Both are identical in their physical attributes, and coach Kariappa will be expecting them to tear apart their opponent’s nets.
Team India begin their campaign on November 24 against France and will take on Canada a day later in their second round-robin league match. This will be followed by their match against Poland (replacements for England, who opted out of the tournament) on November 27.
The knockout matches will take place between December 1 and 5. All matches will be played at the iconic Kalinga Stadium to empty stands owing to Covid-19 restrictions.
India's Full Squad for the Junior Hockey World Cup
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Shardanand Tiwari, Prashant Chauhan (GK), Sanjay (VC), Sudeep Chirmako, Rahul Kumar Rajbhar, Maninder Singh, Pawan (GK), Vishnukant Singh, Ankit Pal, Uttam Singh, Sunil Jojo, Manjeet, Rabichandra Singh Moirangthem, Vivek Sagar Prasad (C), Abhishek Lakra, Yashdeep Siwach, Gurmukh Singh, Araijeet Singh Hundal.