New Delhi/Kochi, July 12 (IANS) Star goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh, who was on Tuesday handed over the mantle of the Indian men’s hockey team, replacing veteran midfielder Sardar Singh, said this is a huge responsibility bestowed on him.
“This is a great responsibility bestowed on me as India goes to every Olympics with a lot of expectation and with a purpose,” said a mighty pleased Sreejesh to reporters in New Delhi after hearing the news.
At his home near Kochi, it was excitement as even his baby daughter Sreekutty Awas seen walking around with two very small hockey sticks, realising that her father is on a high.
“Ever since he led the team to the final for the first time during the recent Champions Trophy, where India won the silver, he has been excited and his next ambition is the gold medal at Rio,” said his father to the reporters who came to meet the happy family..
Sreejesh’s wife Aneesha also could not contain her happiness as this is the first time that a Keralite is leading the national team to the Olympics.
“We are all really happy and we wish him and the team all the best in the tournament,” said Aneesha.
In the 16-member Rio squad announced by Hockey India (HI) chief Narinder Batra, injured defender Birendra Lakra has been excluded and Surender Kumar has been named his replacement. Forward S.V. Sunil has been named Sreejesh’s deputy.
Sreejesh led the Roelant Oltmans-coached side to a silver medal at the Champions Trophy in London in June, where Sardar was rested. In the subsequent six-nation invitational tournament that followed the Champions Trophy, Sardar came back to lead the side only to finish at a disappointing fifth.
In Rio, India have been clubbed with giants Germany and the Netherlands, where the hockey competition for the first time will see quarter-finals after the league stage. Top four teams from each of the two groups progress to the last-eight stage.
India finished last among the 12 countries that participated at the London Olympics in 2012. The eight-time gold medal winners, however, were the first team to qualify for Rio after they beat Pakistan in the 2014 Asian Games final.
Sardar had recently invited controversy after a fallout with a British girl who has accused the veteran midfielder of attempt to rape.
Sreejesh felt that the decision to relieve Sardar of the captaincy will help the midfielder play more freely. Backing his teammate, Sreejesh said Sardar remains one of the best player of the team and felt that a person is abound to be affected by what is happening around you.
Just in front of Sreejesh, the team will miss a key player, Birendra Lakra, who failed to prove his fitness after undergoing a right knee surgery.
Oltmans expressed his grief over Lakra’s absence. “I feel like crying. I am in pain because he can’t be with the team. He is a brilliant hard-working chap. Unfortunately, he couldn’t regain fitness after the surgery,” the Dutchman told IANS in New Delhi.
Other defenders are Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Kothajit Singh, Surender Kumar, V.R. Raghunath. Harmanpreet, Raghunatah and Rupinder are penalty corner exponents.
Sardar will be there among other midfielders, S.K. Uthappa, Davinder Walmiki, Manpreet Singh and Chinglensana Singh. Dharamvir Singh missed out and he was a candidate that the selectors debated a lot about.
The attack line will be led by Sunil and the other forwrds are Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmiah. Mandeep Singh and Talwinder Singh are the ones who missed the bus.
The function to announce the team was attended by BJP chief Amit Shah, Sports Minister Vijay Goel and HI vice president Anurag Thakur, apart from FIH president Leandro Negre.
Rio squad: Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Kothajit Singh, Surender Kumar, Manpreet Singh, Sardar Singh, V.R. Raghunath, S.K. Uthappa, P.R. Sreejesh (Captain, GK), Danish Mujtaba, Devinder Walmiki, S.V. Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmiah.
Standbyes: Pardeep Mor, Vikash Dahiya.