KUALA LUMPUR: Former Junior World Cup champions India suffered a blow to their title hopes in the Sultan of Johor Cup invitational Under-21 hockey tournament when their ace penalty corner flicker and skipper Gurjinder Singh was ruled out due to injury.
The 17-year-old from Punjab suffered a bad left ankle injury after colliding with a team-mate during training in Bangalore two days ago. His place will be taken by another Punjab junior, Harjeet Singh.
Chief coach Mukesh Kumar, a former international, said although Gurjinder’s absence was a “big loss”, India would still be able to hold their own against Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Pakistan and hosts Malaysia in the round-robin tournament at the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium starting on Saturday.
“This tournament will lay the foundation of our Junior World Cup squad. It is the first international for the players and they want to do well to keep their place in the squad. We have a talented team and have high hopes of making the final,” said Mukesh. The Sultan of Johor Cup will also be a big test for Mukesh as it marks his debut as a national coach. The former international is well known in Malaysia having played for Yayasan Negri Sembilan in the MHL in 1995 and 1996 where he won a winner’s medal.
His electrifying runs and deft touches were the hallmark of his game and he made a big impression as a player but his pedigree as a coach remains unknown.
“This is the first time I am acting as the chief coach. It is truly a learning experience for me. But I have an enthusiastic bunch of players who are determied to do well and that helps make things easier.
“Of course the real test will be the tournament and it won’t be easy as the competing teams all have a good pedigree in world hockey.”
Mukesh played for India in three consecutive Olympics starting with the 1992 Barcelona Games, where they finished seventh. He was capped 307 times and scored 80 goals.
Now, he hopes to make an impact as coach and the Sultan of Johor Cup provides the perfect stage for his opening act. His encore may well be the Junior World Cup which India will host in 2013.