CHENNAI: The first casualty of India’s below-par performance at CWG has been identified. Strangely enough, the identity is a bit of a shock.
Manpreet Singh, one of the very few players who could have gone to the airport with his head held high, has been replaced as captain. That job has been handed over to goalkeeper PR Sreejesh for the remainder of the year.
“Hockey India on Friday announced PR Sreejesh and Rani as captains of the men’s and women’s teams until the end of 2018,” a media release said. “Sreejesh returns to the leadership role after coming back from an injury break...” While Rani retaining her position doesn’t surprise, Sreejesh’s ascension has caught a few people in the fraternity by surprise.
While an HI insider says it is to ‘bring some stability to the core team,’ the team’s results of the recent past suggest naming a permanent captain has no effect whatsoever on the stability. In fact, some of India’s more famous performances in the last few years have all come when they had rotational captains at the helm.
Here’s an example. India had as many as four different captains — SV Sunil, VR Raghunath, Manpreet and Sreejesh himself — at the 2016 Champions Trophy when they won silver (only final appearance at that level). They followed that same practice on way to clinching gold at the Asian Champions Trophy later that year.
While a change of management — the practice of rotational skippers died a silent death after the sacking of Roelant Oltmans — meant Manpreet was given the job full-time, why remove him from the post in this of all years?
Sure, CWG was a disappointment, but what message will it send to one of the few guys who actually turned up, wanting to play? What message will it send to the rest of the team with a Champions Trophy and Asian Games (important because it offers winners a direct entry into the Tokyo Games) within the next 150 days?
That’s exactly what former captain V Bhaskaran wants to know. “I just don’t understand this one bit,” he says. “I don’t like the entire subject, to be honest, this constant shifting. Why remove him? Wasn’t he one of our better players at CWG? How will he take this decision?”
Bhaskaran, who knows the inner machinations thanks to his time as coach, is of the opinion that sacking a captain will bring about no change. “The whole structure has to change. Out of the 365 days, the boys are in a camp for 300 days in Bengaluru. If that system was fine, India would have been No 1 in the world. They are clearly not.
“I know that a few people within the new management want to promote young players and I am all for that. But seven relatively new players at a tournament like CWG? Do they think it’s the South Asian Games or something?”
Marijne’s days numbered?
The change in captaincy may not be the most significant decision taken by HI this week. Coach Sjoerd Marijne’s position, it is understood, is on flimsy grounds at the moment and an official decision could be out before the beginning of next week. There was apparently a meeting which took place on Thursday with regards to this very issue. The Dutchman, who was only appointed last September, is yet to come back to India after CWG. He is still sorting out his visa papers and is not expected before the beginning of next month. Considering HI’s record with coaches, it will not come as a surprise if he is shown the door.