Sardar Singh will lead India’s challenge in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

With rumours over his future doing the rounds, Sardar Singh has been included in the 18-man squad announced for the annual Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and to top it all, he has been named as the captain in the absence of regular skipper Manpreet Singh. The tournament begins on March 3 in Ipoh, Malaysia and sees Australia, Argentina, England, Ireland, India and hosts Malaysia vying for the title. The final will be played on March 10.

“Sardar is one of the leaders in the core group and in Manpreet Singh’s absence, he has been chosen for the job. He is an experienced player and having missed two tournaments previously, this is an opportunity for him to show his skills,” said India coach Sjoerd Marijne.

The 31-year-old who was a regular in the India set up and led from the front, had seen his place come into question owing to fitness concerns and youngsters making their mark for the places. Despite being included in the 33-member core group for the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in April, he is unlikely to make a trip to Australia, if reports are to be believed. As per sections of the media, selection committee – comprising Marijne and high performance director David John – will keep the Sultan Azlan Shah and Commonwealth Games teams separate.

“Absolutely not. Every player that is selected has to perform to be selected for the next tournament. So, Sardar is under the same scrutiny as the other 17 players in the team. But we rule no player out of any tournament. If he keeps performing at a high level, he will still be part of the plans,” said John to DNA on suggestions that Sultan Azlan Shah could be Sardar’s swansong.

Sardar’s playing position has been under scrutiny too and under Marijne he has been employed in defence from his usual spot in the middle of the midfielder. For the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, he has been included in the midfield – if the squad sheet is an indication.

Mandeep Mor, Sumit Kumar and Shilanand Lakra have been included for the first time in the Indian squad and will be making their debuts. Sumit is part of the ongoing Senior Men’s National Camp, Mor and Lakra have been called-up from the Junior Men’s Core Group. They were also part of the Indian team that won the Bronze Medal at Sultan of Johor Cup last year.