'Keeper Sreejesh named skipper; Sunil his deputy

'Keeper Sreejesh named skipper; Sunil his deputy

Sardar relieved of captaincy duties

'Keeper Sreejesh named skipper; Sunil his deputy

Going into the Rio Games, India's men's hockey team will be led by their goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and vice-captain SV Sunil, it was revealed during the announcement of squad for the Olympics by Hockey India on Tuesday.

Sreejesh, currently one of finest custodians in world at the moment, replaces the long-standing captain Sardar Singh. While Sardar no longer the sharp midfielder he once was, his off-field image also took a hit after the recent rape allegation on the promise of marriage by a British-national.

Sardar was not the part of the last month's Champions Trophy where India -- led by Sreejesh -- created history by winning a silver medal in tournament's 38 years history. The form of the Kerala player also played a significant role and his appointment in a way offered little surprise.

Sardar appeared a bit aloof but insisted that all was well. "There is no controversy here. It is a team game, as seniors we all know our roles. We are all captains," he said.

Sreejesh, who basked under the spotlight, assured the decision has been well taken by the team, including Sardar. "Sardar is a mature professional. He understands why something of this kind has happened. He never brings his worries to the field," he said.

"Being a captain is a responsibility but there is no pressure. I have so many people to help me. But I will first ensure that I give my 100%. There are several youngsters in the side and they have been responding well. We are now on the final stage of our preparations, only some polishing is left."

This current side has seven players from the last Games, the memories of which still linger. "We all know how the last Games went. There were a lot of expectations. This is something for all these youngsters should learn. But we are much better prepared this time," Sreejesh said.

Young dragflicker Harmanpreet Singh, who has impressed one all since his debut at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup early this year, defender Surender Kumar and midfielder Devinder Walmiki are included in the 16-member squad. However, defender Birendra Lakra lost out after failing to recover from a knee surgery. Defender Pradeep Mor and goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya were named the standbys and will travel to Rio following Indian Olympic Association's nod.

Coach Roelant Oltmans viewed Sreejesh's appointment as a way to distribute responsibility within the team. "I need people who can take responsibility both on and off field. Sardar was taking too many responsibilities because of which he was not performing at the level expected of him. I feel it will help him perform better. He has taken it sportingly," Oltmans said.

"I need shared leadership and that's the reason I felt we needed to change the captain. We changed the captain in the Champions Trophy and it worked out really well."

Oltmans was confident of team's improved performance in Rio. "I believe in this group of players. There self confidence has increased after winning couple of medals. We have a good mix of experienced players and youngsters. Our first aim is to make to the quarterfinals. After that, it's a one day match and for that we will be 100 percent ready," he said.

The event saw the presence of Sports Minster Vijay Goel and FIH president Leandro Negre.

DH News Service

Squad: PR Sreejesh (captain and goalkeeper), Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinderpal Singh, Kothajit Singh, Surender Kumar, Manpreet Singh, Sardar Singh, VR Raghunath, SK Uthappa, Danish Mujtaba, Devinder Walmiki, SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah.

Chief coach: Roelant Oltmans, Analytical coach: Roger van Gent, Coach: Tushar Khandkar, Scientific advisor: Matthew Eyles, Physiotherapist: Shrikant Iyengar, Video analyst: Aadhithya Chakravarthy, Masseur: Arup Naskar, Doctor: Kenjom Ngomdir