In a significant but surprise move, India today named senior goalkeeper PR Sreejesh as the captain of the national 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 gliterring fucntion organised by Hockey India to announce the men’s and women’s teams for the Rio Games.
“By changing the captain I belive 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.
Meanwhile, defender Sushila Chanu will lead the 16-member Indian women’s hockey team at the forthcoming Olympic Games to be held at Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to 21.
Hockey India today named Sushila as the skipper in place of Ritu Rani who was dropped from the squad by the selectors due to poor form and attitude problems.
Sushila’s colleague in the backline, Deepika will assist her as the vice-captain during the Games.
The team includes five defenders, five midfielders, five fowards and only one goalkeeper in Savita.
The women’s team includes the experience of Deepika, Sunita Lakra, Sushila, Namita Toppo and Deep Grace Ekka in the defence.