Why Sardar Singh Lost the Captaincy Race to Sreejesh
File image of Sreejesh during a warm-up session. (Getty Images)
New Delhi: When PR Sreejesh's name came out of the envelope on Tuesday, a moment of silence followed a thunderous applause in the ballroom of the plush five-star hotel, The Lalit. The next moment, Indian hockey team's new captain was seen being facilitated by Sports Minister, Vijay Goel, and a quiet, turbaned veteran clapping with a straight face.
The Indian hockey team has been as much about its outgoing captain Sardar Singh as about the see-saw run that it endured over the years to reach the top five of world rankings a month before the Rio Olympics.
Possibly, it was the maiden Champions Trophy silver under goalkeeper Sreejesh that tipped the scales in his favour, but there could be more untold reasons to this story.
It was amid much fanfare organised by Hockey India that the Indian men's team got its new leader. Not that Sreejesh hasn't captained the team before or captaincy matters as much in hockey as probably it does in other team games, but it's a significant shift.
Sardar, who of late slid as the team's playmaker, was rested for the Champions Trophy in London last month, where India lost the final to Australia and bagged silver. The team played significantly well compared to a week later, when Sardar returned as part of the six-nations tournament in Valencia, Spain.
There, though experimenting, India won just one one game and finished fifth. But that's not all in the Sardar saga that Indian hockey would want to bury ASAP considering the Olympics beginning August 5.
Recently, Sardar also invited controversy after a fallout with a British girl who has alleged that Sardar attempted to rape her during their relationship. While Sardar continues to deny those claims, the girl, who is also a hockey player, is exploring legal options and had also filed a police complaint a few months ago.
It has been learnt that it was one of the reasons Sardar was kept away from the Champions Trophy in London, where the girl lives with her family. Incidentally, it cost Sardar a historic medal.
It has also been learnt by News 18.com that Sardar will not be holding the centre-half position anymore, where he had made a name for himself as one of the world's best playmakers. That's because the team, according to many experts, is performing better these days when he is not feeding the forwards from the middle of the field.
He was seen playing as a forward during the six-nation tournament in Spain. Manpreet Singh, it has been reliably learnt, will play as the central midfielder replacing Sardar in that position in Rio.
But having said all that, Sardar remains a vital cog in the Indian team’s gameplan for Rio Olympics. With backs to the fall, he may come up with spirited performance. But that's if he can swallow that he is no longer the captain of the Indian team that he has ruled for so long.
India have been clubbed with giants Germany and Netherlands in Rio, where the hockey competition for the first time will see quarterfinals after the league stage. Top four teams from each of the two groups progress to the last-eight stage.
To round it off, Srjeesh, being cheeky as ever, hushed the controversial tone with his quote of the day: "Captains are known to lead from the front. I, the goalkeeper, will lead from behind."