The Indian hockey team which will play in the upcoming 2023 FIH Men's Hockey World Cup in Odisha is not short on talent, nor experience. While a few senior players have retired since the memorable bronze in the Tokyo Olympics, others have stepped up to take over the mantle.
Considering how the game has evolved, with rolling substitutions during the matches, Graham Reid will hope all his squad players will seize the opportunity to make an impact in the World Cup. To pick only seven is not easy, but here are the key players who can prove to be crucial at the big stage:
Expertise: Penalty corner specialist
Matches played: 164
Goals scored: 126
Harmanpreet is the best among the best. There's no doubt that this Indian team will win penalty corners without much of a struggle. And then having a player of Harmanpreet's calibre at penalty corners, they also shouldn't be missing most of those opportunities. If Harmanpreet has a good tournament, the chances of India pulling off something special also increase.
Expertise: Relentless work rate.
Matches played: 84
Goals scored: 6
Right now, Hardik has the advantage of playing next to Manpreet Singh but the day is not too far when he will take over from his former captain and marshal the midfield like a boss. A non-stop runner, Hardik can win the ball with his pressing and can also send an accurate pass to the circle, bypassing the defenders. In addition, the team depend on him to take charge of the push for penalty corners.
Expertise: Saves but more specifically, shootouts and penalty corner saves.
Matches played: 80
Just as Hardik benefitted by playing with Manpreet, Pathak did so with another legend - PR Sreejesh. Usually, Reid uses both goalkeepers alternately every quarter, but in important matches, he sticks with Sreejesh - who has won many matches for his team. Over the years, Pathak made solid progress and is reaching his peak right now. This is not to say he will 'replace' Sreejesh in the World Cup, but he can have an equal impact in games. Imagine two equally good goalkeepers in the team? This could prove crucial for India in the World Cup.
Expertise: A solid finisher
Matches played: 28
Goals scored: 11
The complete forward, if there even is something like that in hockey. He's great with his stick work, his movements are almost always timed perfectly and he caps that off with solid finishes. Having an experienced Mandeep Singh by his side also helps. He may not have played as many matches as others on this list, but Abhishek has what it takes to perform and deliver under pressure.
Expertise: Maker of goals and scoring in the fourth quarter
Matches played: 194
Goals scored: 96.
Mandeep Singh's role has evolved ever since he made his debut as a young forward in 2013. Now he's more of a goal-maker, creating opportunities for other forwards as well as winning penalty corners for his team. He's also someone who raises his game when India need a goal or two in the final quarter. He's four short of 100 goals for India - which he'll look to achieve in the World Cup.
Expertise: First runner extraordinaire
Matches played: 131
Being the vice-captain and a senior player, Rohidas has plenty of experience of playing big matches in big tournaments. He can do man-to-man defending when needed and can also maintain his discipline in zonal defending. He's one of the best first rushers in the sport, putting his body on the line against powerful penalty corners and can also dragflick if needed.
Position: Attacking midfielder/Forward
Expertise: Goals. Converting half-chances.
Matches played: 219
Goals scored: 83
There were doubts about Akashdeep's spot in the World Cup but when he was given a chance in the Australian series, he seized it with his stick ...and goals. He'll mostly play as a forward, which bodes well given his recent form. A proven goal-scorer, Reid will hope Akashdeep continues his good form going into the World Cup.
P.S: There's one name missing from the seven listed here. Manpreet Singh is nowhere close to being done. Irrespective of the team's form, Manpreet has never dropped his high standards. There's more speed and intensity in the Indian midfield thanks to a young bunch of players and although Manpreet is not exactly young, Reid will want his former captain to push the team when the chips are down. This is a man who has played 279 matches and delivered whenever the team needs him.