New Delhi | In a significant but surprise move, senior Malayali goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has been named the captain of the Indian Hockey team for the Rio Olympics, removing long-standing skipper Sardar Singh.
Sreejesh, one of the finest custodians in world hockey at the moment, was rewarded after the team, under his leadership, ended up with a silver medal at the Champions Trophy in London, their best-ever result in the 38-year-history of the blue riband six-nation tournament.
The team played a brilliant final where they held eventual champions Australia to a goalless draw in the regulation time before losing in a controversial shoot-out.
Playmaker SV Sunil, who is also a key component in the team, has been named vice-captain. He was Sreejesh’s deputy in the Champions Trophy.
While there were rumours that Sardar’s axing was a result of his dip in form in recent times, Indian hockey team’s chief coach and High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans said the move to relieve the ace midfielder from captaincy was purely taken to free him from excess responsibilities.
The philosophy behind changing the captain is that we felt people need to take more responsibilities on the pitch and off the pitch. Sardar was taking too much responsibilities because of which he was not performing at the level that is expected of him, Oltmans told reporters during a glittering function organised by Hockey India to announce the men’s and women’s teams for the Rio Games.
By changing the captain I believe Sardar will play a much better Olympic Games. Sardar took the decision (of him being removed from captaincy) very sportingly. He understands what’s required from him.
Off the field too, Sardar had been going through tough times following allegations of rape after promising marriage were levelled against him by a British national.
Asked if Sardar’s off-field controversy bogged him down, the Dutchman reacted in affirmative.
Of course those things did affect him, he said, pertaining to the legal tangle that the former skipper finds himself pertaining to the rape allegation.
For me, it is important that we perform as a team. We tried this combination of players in Champions Trophy and it worked for us. This is the time to fine tune our processes and I have complete faith in our processes. I believe in this group of players, Oltmans said.
Oltmans also said that he believes in shared leadership. I need shared leadership. I need players who take responsibility on and off the field and that’s the reason I felt we need to change the captain. We changed the captain in the Champions Trophy and that’s worked out really well.
I believe at this moment this is the best solution for Sardar and the team. For me there is only one thing and that’s the team and individuals are part of the team.
The 16-member team has a mixture of youth and experience. It consists of seven players who played in the London Olympics while nine new faces were inducted.
The team has five defenders, six midfielders, four forwards and only one goalkeeper in Sreejesh.
Young dragflicker Harmanpreet Singh, defender Surender Kumar and midfielder Devinder Walmiki have been rewarded for their good showing in recent tournaments.
Besides the trio, all the other players who have been picked were expected. The only notable ommission from the squad was ever-reliable defender Birendra Lakra who failed to recover in time after a knee surgery.
The team also has two standby players — defender Pradeep Mor and goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya who will also travel to Rio after the Indian Olympic Association approved Hockey India’s request.
The team is a great mixture of experienced players and youngsters and I belive that’s the best possible. Out of the 16 we have 7 players who have played at the London Olympics They have Olympic experience and then we have 9 new players, Oltmans said.
Although he refused to predict anything, Oltmans promised a much-better show from his wards at Rio.
If you make it to the quarterfinals, which is our aim, then its all one day match. I can only say onething we will be 100 per cent prepared. I believe in this group. Their self belief has increased by winning a couple of medals in, he said.
Sardar, meanwhile, did not seem disappointed on being axed as the skipper, and said hockey was a team game and captaincy hardly matters.
For me hockey and nation comes first. Our only target is to give our best in the Olympics and we have been preparing hard for this event for the last 2 years. For me evenybody is a leader in the team, Sardar said.
Our aim is to win a medal. It is time for us to be focussed and united.
What is important is to play for the country. Hockey is a team game and captain has no role in this game. I would like to congratulate Sreejesh. It is time to be together and make the team more strong and give our best in the Olympics.
Asked about the off-field controversy, Sardar said: My focus right now is just on hockey. People are trying to distract me but my target is to give my best at the Olympics.
New skipper Sreejesh said unlike other captains he will lead the team from behind.
My focus is on my performance because if it would a shame if you concede 10 goals after becoming the captain. I will also try to support every player.
All leaders lead from the front but I will lead from behind, Sreejesh said.
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