Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh – reputed to be one of the coolest heads in the national men’s hockey team – has been chosen to lead the squad heading to Rio Olympics. This is being regarded as one of the most important decisions taken by Hockey India, the governing body for hockey in India, in recent times. Sreejesh replaces Sardar Singh, who had been skipper for a long time. Sreejesh is currently thought to be as one of the best players in the world in his position. Recently, he also led Indian team to a silver medal at Champions Trophy held in London. The accomplished 28-year-old has taken the field for India 156 times until today.
Proving leadership credentials
Champions Trophy, contested by 6 countries, is one of the top events of world hockey, perhaps next in importance only to Olympics and World Cup. One can assume that the leadership skills Sreejesh showed in the tournament made it easy for the selectors to name him as the captain of the Rio-bound side. In that tournament, Sreejesh proved himself as a player too.
How did India fare at the tournament?
The silver medal finish was also the best result achieved by India in the history of Champions Trophy, which has been in existence for 38 years now. The final was a keenly-contested affair with Australia – the champions – unable to breach India’s defence in the regulation time. Even the shootout itself – to determine the eventual winners – was deemed controversial by many. However, after this tournament India took part in another series, staged in Valencia. India was unable to maintain its splendid performance of Champions Trophy and could only defeat Ireland, regarded as minnows in world hockey. It lost a couple of games while drawing the same amount.
SV Sunil as vice-captain
SV Sunil has been confirmed as the deputy to PR Sreejesh. Like Sreejesh, Sunil is an important cog in the team’s wheel by virtue of being a playmaker.
What went wrong for Sardar?
Sardar Singh has led the national men’s hockey team with distinction for years now. In his prime he was a capable midfielder, but today he is perhaps a pale shadow of his former self as per experts. His on-field performances are not of the standard that people have come to expect of him.
Things had starting to get rough for him of late, especially off the field. He was recently alleged to have raped a British-Indian lady, who incidentally has played for Great Britain women’s hockey team. She had complained that Sardar had promised to marry her. All this has taken a major toll on his standing in personal life and perhaps affected his game as well. He had led the men’s team in the previous edition of Olympics – London 2012 – as well. He was rested during Champions Trophy.
What’s next for Sreejesh and the team?
Sreejesh has made it quite clear that he has not been given the captaincy for the long term. He has acknowledged that this particular opportunity is part of a rotational policy, which, he says, has helped the Indian team in the past. He has said that Indian team shall always have 3-4 captains in a year. He has further stated that he will not be the only one taking decisions on the field and will be assisted in that regard by 3-4 who shall work as unofficial vice-captains. The custodian has quite rightly pointed out that it is a team game and it needs to be played as such.
Policy of rotation
Roelant Oltmans, coach of Indian national men’s hockey team, has stated that the policy of captaincy rotation will only make the players more responsible than before. He expressed that in his 3 ½ year tenure as coach he has observed a definite structure of hierarchy in India. He has pointed out that when Sardar was captain others never took responsibility. He has laid out his requirement from players quite clearly by saying that he wants players to assume more responsibility on the field and one way in which he feels that will be achieved is by changing on-field captaincy roles within the team. However, he has made it quite clear that Sardar is still one of the leaders in spite of his official removal from the position. This will undoubtedly boost Sardar as he will know he still enjoys the faith of the team – as well as the management – in spite of what has happened till now.
Goal of Indian team at Rio
Oltmans states that in the upcoming Olympics, the team will look to first make it past the group stages and enter the quarter-finals. After that, they will be looking at things from the perspective of game by game.
India in London 2012 and path to Rio 2016
At the London Olympics, the Indian men’s team performed woefully, finishing at the last spot among the 12 participants. However, the team became the first to qualify for the tournament by beating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final of 2014 Asian Games. Here too, Sreejesh was the hero in the penalty shoot-out.
Indian team for the event
Following is the Indian men’s team for Rio Olympics 2016 with reserves indicated in brackets:
Goal: PR Sreejesh (Vikas Dahiya)
Defence: Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Kothajit Singh Khadangbam, Surender Kumar, V.R. Raghunath
Midfield: Manpreet Singh, Sardar Singh, S.K. Uthappa, Danish Mujtaba, Devindar Walmiki, Chinglensana Singh (Pardeep Mor)
Forward: S.V. Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah