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Chinglensana Singh will play in the Hockey World Final starting Dec. 1 as part of the India team. (Chinglensana Singh Twitter photo)

NEW DELHI — Former captain Sardar Singh and forward Ramandeep were "rested" while experienced defenders Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra returned to the Indian squad, which was named Nov. 17 for the Hockey World League Final, starting Dec. 1 in Bhubaneswar.

Hockey India chairman of selectors Harbinder Singh told IANS that their main aim is not only to ensure that the players remain injury-free ahead of 2018, which will see India play four big tournaments, but also to give chance to everyone.

"No one has been dropped. Players are getting rest. The squad members have been picked on rotation basis. Next year, we have four major tournaments lined up. So keeping players injury-free and fresh is important," Harbinder Singh said.

Next year, India will compete in Commonwealth Games, Fédération Internationale de Hockey Champions Trophy, Asian Games and FIH World Cup.

Rupinder Pal Singh and Lakra returned after overcoming injuries, while experienced goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh continues his recovery from an injury. The team will see Akash Chikte and Suraj Karkera guard the Indian goal-post.

However, the return of Punjab drag-flick specialist Rupinder Pal Singh and Odisha's Lakra pleased chief coach Sjoerd Marijne. 

"It is good to have Rupinder, who brings great experience, as well as Birendra back in the team. Both are 100 per cent fit and eager to wear the India colors again," stated the 43-year-old Dutch tactician.

Rupinder Pal Singh wrote on Twitter: "165 long days... They say, 'Time flies'... but for me, it didn't. I can remember each of those 4000+ hrs I spent trying to get back to where I belong. If this journey has taught me anything, it's how Your Biggest Setback Is Also A Platform For Your Biggest Comeback! #3elief."

The Indian team will be led by 25-year-old midfielder Manpreet Singh, while the responsibilities of his deputy will be shouldered by Chinglensana Singh. The midfield will see S.K. Uthappa, Kothajit Singh and Sumit join Manpreet Singh and Chinglensana Singh.

Junior World Cup-winning players Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Dipsan Tirkey, who have had promising outings in Europe and Asia Cup, too find themselves in the squad for the season finale.

Moreover, in perhaps one of the best comeback stories of the year, Odisha's defender Amit Rohidas, who had a fantastic outing in 2017 Coal India Hockey India League that stemmed his return to the senior fold, has been rewarded with a place in the biggest tournament of the year. 

"Amit was called-in as a replacement for Kothajit who had a hamstring injury just before we left for the Asia Cup. He flew in directly from Australia where he had played the Australian Hockey League for India 'A' team and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands," stated the Dutchman.

He further added that the team will have drag-flick options in Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas and Dipsan Tirkey. "We have five players in defense who can drag and have been putting in extra hours for penalty corner training which is great for the team," Marijne said.

The forward-line will see the experienced S.V. Sunil along with Akashdeep Singh, Gurjant Singh who had a promising Asia Cup, Lalit Upadhyay and 22-year-old Mandeep Singh returning to the team after being rested for Asia Cup.

Marijne emphasized that this squad is a great mix of experienced seniors and energetic youngsters who will add to the team's enthusiasm. 

"I think this is a great mix and would especially like to see how the youngsters soak up the pressure of playing against higher ranked teams in the world. We will have to play every match like it is the Final and will have absolutely no room to make errors if we want to see ourselves on the podium," concluded Marijne.

India is grouped with Australia, England and Germany in Pool B and will begin their campaign on the opening day against defending champions Australia. 

The squad: 

Goalkeepers: Akash Anil Chikte, Suraj Karkera.

Defenders: Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas, Dipsan Tirkey, Varun Kumar, Rupinderpal Singh, Birendra Lakra.

Midfielders: Manpreet Singh (captain), Chinglensana Singh (vice-captain), S.K. Uthappa, Sumit, Kothajit Singh. 

Forwards: S.V. Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Gurjant Singh.

(Abhishek Purohit can be contacted on purohitabhishek3@gmail.com)

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