India hockey coach Michael Nobbs says an impressive performance by youngsters in the ongoing series against South Africa will make it tough for him to pick the team for the Olympic Qualifiers next month.
India defeated South Africa 4-3 in the fourth Test here Friday to seal the five-match series.
Nobbs said the series has given more selection options ahead of the qualifiers with around 26 players being good enough to earn a place in the 18-man squad.
"We tested everyone in the series and deliberately designed it to see who can win their position and some players did. There are around 25-26 players who can play for India," Nobbs said here.
Harbir Singh, S.K. Uthappa, Kothajit Singh and Chingelsana Singh are playing in their debut series and Nobbs said these players have impressed him the most.
"Uthappa was brilliant, Kothajit was good too, these are some of the players who have put themselves in the mix to be selected and it would be difficult to pick the best 18 for the Olympic qualifiers now."
Nobbs reckoned that it will be difficult for seniors like Rajpal Singh to make a comeback, considering the way the youngsters have performed against South Africa.
"Rajpal will have to work really to replace someone who is ahead of him right now. In hockey, we have a saying that never lend your stick to someone because you might not get it back. He has time to do it," Nobbs said.
Nobbs said he will experiment further in the fifth Test Sunday and the team needs to improve on its defence. He had earlier identified anticipation and tackling as the team's main problem.
"We have won the series so I will have the latitude to experiment and try out some new combinations. Danish Mujtaba, Manpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh will play tomorrow."
On defence, Nobbs said: "We are allowing our defence to be penetrated and this is one area where we have a fair bit of work to do in the next four weeks," he said.
South Africa is ranked-lower than India but Nobbs said the series against them was good preparation going into the Olympic Qualifiers from Feb 18-26.
"This was a tough series and a good drill for us. South Africa is a very good team. If we can beat them, we can beat teams like Canada, France, Poland, Italy and the United States, whom we are playing in the qualifiers," he said.