Karachi - Pakistan have in a surprise move omitted skipper Muhammad Imran, midfielder Waseem Ahmed and goalkeeper Salman Akbar from the preliminary list of hockey probables selected for the 2012 London Olympics.
Chief selector Hanif Khan insisted Friday that the three stalwarts have been dropped on current form and poor fitness while there is speculation that their dropping has something to do with the decision by some leading players to play in the unsanctioned World Series Hockey in India, beginning Feb 29.
"We have no idea whether any (Pakistani) player is playing in the rebel Indian league," Hanif was quoted as saying in The News Friday.
"I can say for sure that the three players have been dropped because of their form and fitness," said Hanif.
The three were considered key players in the team not so long ago. Imran, a talented defender, has been preferred to the more experienced Sohail Abbas to captain the side while Waseem is considered the pivot in the middle and Salman the country's No.1 goalkeeper.
"No doubt the three are leading players but their recent showing had been disappointing, particularly in the Champions Trophy in December in New Zealand," said Hanif, adding that their poor showing resulted in Pakistan finishing at an embarrassing seventh position in Auckland.
"More recently in the National Hockey Championship, these players were once again found lacking in terms of both form and fitness and we thought it was time to bring in fresh blood."
Hanif also said Pakistanâs Dutch coach Michel van dev Heuvel has the selectors' full support and the changes have his nod.
However, the selectors have recalled the previously discarded Rehan Butt, who at 32 is older than Salman Akbar and Muhammad Imran.
âRehan has proved his worth by giving an exceptional performance at the National Championship,â said Hanif.
The preliminary squad will assemble at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore Feb 27 to begin training for the Olympic Games. The first phase of the camp will conclude March 15, reports The News.
Meanwhile, the PHF has approved performance-based central contracts for leading national players for a three-month period, starting Jan 1.
The preliminary squad:
Goalkeepers: Imran Butt, Imran Shah, Mazhar Abbas.
Fullbacks: Sohail Abbas, Kashif Shah, Ihsan Ullah, Muhammad Irfan, Amir Shahzad.
Midfielders: Rizwan Junior, Fareed Ahmad, Rashid Mehmood, Muhammad Tousiq, Kashif Javed, Tasawwar Abbas, Ammad Butt.
Forwards: Waqas Sharif, Shakeel Abbasi, Abdul Haseem Khan, Rizwan Senior, Muhammad Zubair, Ali Shan, Shafqat Rasool, Umar Bhutta, Shabbir Khan, Irfan Junior, Muhammad Suleman, Rehan Butt.