The Indian men’s hockey team starts as the favorites to win the gold medal at the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games 2023, scheduled between September 24 and October 6 in China. With the 2024 Paris Olympics quota up for grabs, all 12 teams will vie for the ultimate gold medal in the next two weeks.
India is in Pool A along with reigning champions Japan, arch-rivals Pakistan, Singapore, Uzbekistan, and Bangladesh. The three-time Asian Games gold medallists will start their campaign against Uzbekistan on September 24.
India will ride high on the success of the Men’s Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai last month. They were unbeaten in the six-team continental event. A few similar opponents are likely to meet their path in the quest for a fourth Asian Games gold, which they last won in 2014 in Incheon.
India Asian Games 2023 Hockey squad: PR Sreejesh (GK), Krishan Pathak (GK), Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas, Jarmanpreet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh (c), Sanjay, Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma, Hardik Singh (vc), Manpreet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Shamsher Singh, Abhishek, Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Sukhjeet Singh, and Lalit Kumar Upadhyay.
On that note, here are three players who are vital in India’s main XI in this continental showpiece.
#3 Hardik Singh
Hardik Singh made his international debut for India in 2018 and since then, he has appeared in 107 games and scored 8 goals. He is a lynchpin in India’s midfield and creates enough scoring opportunities for the forwards.
A hamstring injury against England forced the 24-year-old to sit out of the remaining part of the World Cup and that cost India an exit in the pre-quarters against New Zealand.
Hardik has been in terrific form after making a comeback on the field. Among the eight goals scored in his career so far, he has netted twice against Japan, whom India will play on September 28. In the Champions Trophy, he scored only one goal against Malaysia through a penalty corner, which he calls India’s strength.
#2 PR Sreejesh
Sreejesh firmly believes in one thing - goalkeepers are like fine wine, they get better when they get old. At 35, the veteran goalkeeper stands at the twilight of his storied career, where he has been part of the national team’s four World Cups, three Olympics, and three Commonwealth Games.
He will feature in his fourth competition at the Asiad this year. For bailing out the team out of precarious situations, the Kerala-born start earned the moniker “The Great Wall of India.” He loves saving improbable goals for his side and one shouldn’t be surprised by his transcendence in the goalpost at Hangzhou.
Sreejesh became the ninth Indian player to complete 300 international appearances for India last month in the Champions Trophy. He will continue to split the goalpost duties along with Krishan Bahadur Pathak as India is the only country to adopt such tactics.
#1 Harmanpreet Singh
A stat that Harmanpreet Singh finished as the highest goalscorer of the men’s Asian Champions Trophy (9 goals) can mislead a passer-by that the Indian skipper is an exceptional forward. While he is primarily a defender, one cannot shy away from the fact that India are dependent on him when it comes to penalty corners.
Harmanpreet also finished as the top goal-scorer of the FIH Hockey Pro League for successive seasons with 18 goals coming off his stick each year. With 191 caps and 155 goals to his name, the 27-year-old will be India’s big asset on the pitch.
Off the pitch, he was appointed as the joint flag-bearer of the Indian contingent in the Asian Games 2023 opening ceremony.