In a significant but surprise move, India on Tuesday 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 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. “Our aim is to win a medal. It is time for us to be focussed and united,” he added.