By Prabhjot Singh | Sports | India |
Hockey India has at last made formal announcements about captains and vice-captains of Indian men and women teams named to represent the country in the ensuing Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.
Midfielder Manpreet Singh has been named captain of the Olympic-bound men’s team while Rani Rampal has been chosen for leadership role of the women’s team.
The vice captain’s role of the men’s team will be shared by experienced defenders Birendra Lakra and Harmanpreet Singh. In case of the women’s team, goalkeeper Savita and deep defender Deep Grace Ekka will share the responsibility of the vice-captain.
Intriguingly, the Hockey India did not name the captains and vice captains at the time of the announcement of the two teams. Though choice of both Manpreet and Rani Rampal was on the expected lines, naming of two deputies each of men and women teams has come as a surprirse. Never before any Indian team, bound for Olympics, had two Vice-Captains.
The only exception had been 1968 when the then Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) named deep defenders Prithipal Singh and Gurbux Singh Kohli as joint captains of the Mexico-bound Indian men’s team.
Under Manpreet’s captaincy, the Indian team over the past four years has achieved important milestones including winning the Asia Cup in 2017, winning the Asian Champions Trophy in 2018 as well winning the FIH Series Final in 2019. The team also made it to the quarterfinals of the FIH Men’s World Cup 2018 in Bhubaneswar.
It also performed exceedingly well in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2020 before the pandemic disrupted its schedule. This will be Manpreet’s third Olympic games and under his leadership, the team has also improved their world ranking to number 4.
Birendra is a veteran defender who was also part of the London Olympic Games but missed playing in Rio owing to a major knee surgery in 2016. But since his return to the squad following the brief break, Birendra has shown considerable improvement in his performance.
Meanwhile, Harmanpreet Singh, who has since his debut in seniors team in 2015 is now a top drag-flicker and defender. In the absence of skipper Manpreet in 2019, he led the team to a win at the FIH Olympic Test event in Tokyo.
Congratulating the three players, Chief Coach Graham Reid said, “All of them have been an integral part of the team’s leadership over these past couple of years and have shown a lot of maturity in guiding the youngsters during these challenging times.
Naming two vice captains we believe will also strengthen our leadership in what is going to be a demanding tournament. We are confident that together they will guide the team to success
Expressing his gratitude on being named captain of the Olympic-bound Indian men’s team, Manpreet said, “This Olympics will be truly special, and I am humbled to have this opportunity of representing India at the Olympics for the third time, this time as team Captain. It is a very proud moment for me to be given this charge. Over these past few years, we have developed a strong leadership group and have successfully overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic to keep our form and minds and fitness focussed towards doing well at the Olympics.”
Birendra said that this Olympics is special for him and being named the Vice-Captain of the team has only made this all the more special. “This will be a very special Olympic Games as we have prepared really well and are poised to win a medal in Tokyo. Being named as a vice captain along with Harmanpreet Singh is a matter of pride for me and over these past years with India we have seen players show great mental toughness during our preparations despite these trying times. We just hope to make the hard work and sacrifices count by winning big,” stated Lakra.
Harmanpreet on the other hand thanked Hockey India and the Coaching staff for the opportunity. He said, “When I came into the team as an absolute newcomer in 2015, there were a lot of seniors who guided me and I hope to play the same role now. We have a good, well-prepared team and everyone is excited to make this opportunity count.”
Indian men will begin their campaign in Tokyo on July 24 when they take on New Zealand in their first Pool match.
For the women’s team, Rani was the obvious choice not just for her on-field exploits but also for her innate ability to guide the youngsters in the team.
Under her captaincy, the Indian team over the past four years has achieved significant results including winning the Asia Cup in 2017, winning silver at the Asian Games 2018, silver at Asian Champions Trophy 2018 as well winning the FIH Series Final in 2019. The team also made it to the quarterfinals of the FIH Women’s World Cup 2018 in London for the first time. She was the cynosure of India’s performance during the FIH Olympic Qualifiers in Bhubaneswar where her goal put the team ahead (6-5) against USA to secure the qualification.
Hockey India also announced dependable defender Deep Grace Ekka and experienced goalkeeper Savita as the two vice captains of the women’s team. Both the players have been in the Indian Core Group for nearly a decade and have been an integral part of the leadership group. They also played a key role in India’s feats that saw it attain the best ranking of World No.9 in 2018 following a strong performance at the FIH Women’s World Cup.
Congratulating all three players named for their leadership roles, Indian women’s Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne said, “I congratulate Rani on being named the Captain of the Indian Women’s Hockey Team for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. I also congratulate Deep Grace Ekka and Savita on being named vice captains of the team. All these three players have been part of the leadership group for a long time and have proven their abilities with this added responsibility and have guided many youngsters in the Core Group. Having two Vice Captains will also strengthen the core leadership group for the future.
Their experience and role will be of importance as we aim to achieve good results in Tokyo. It has been a long journey for the team and we continue into a tough challenge at the Olympics. The team needs to be mentally strong and I am confident with these three players at the helm, they are headed in the right direction.”
Expressing her gratitude on being named Captain, Rani said, “It is a huge honour to lead the Indian Team at the Olympic games. In these years my role as a captain was made easy with teammates who have shared the responsibilities as senior players. I look forward to this added responsibility and thank Hockey India, coaching staff and selectors for this honour.”
Vice Captain Deep Grace Ekka too stated that this new responsibility will motivate her to ensure the team does well in Tokyo. “To lead India as vice captain at the Olympics is a huge honour and it will surely motivate me further to do well for the team. We have players from different regions of India in the team, but we have come closer as a unit over these past 15 months during the pandemic which has been challenging for all.” stated Grace who will be playing her second Olympic games.
Savita also expressed her gratefulness as she said, “I thank the team’s support staff and Hockey India for giving me this responsibility. We are all eagerly awaiting to do well at the Olympics in Tokyo, and it will be great to lead India to good wins.”
India hockey captain wedding making headlines in Malaysia (Asia Samachar, 21 Dec 2020)