Birendra Lakra ruled out of Rio

Lakra, who stepped on the turf last month for the first time in four months since his knee surgery, is yet to achieve the level of match fitness desired for the Olympics.

The 25-year-old Lakra suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tear in his right knee during Ranchi Rays’ Hockey India League match against Dabang Mumbai in February and was operated upon in the first week of March.   -  Getty Images

Despite a race against time to be fit, talented defender Birendra Lakra is all set to miss the bus to Rio.

Lakra, who stepped on the turf last month for the first time in four months since his knee surgery, is yet to achieve the level of match fitness desired for the Olympics. The 25-year-old suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tear in his right knee during Ranchi Rays’ Hockey India League match against Dabang Mumbai in February and was operated upon in the first week of March.

“He worked his heart out and even played all the matches at the six-nation tournament in Valencia but some elements in terms of his match fitness are still missing. He won’t be going to the Olympics,” sources in the team management confirmed. An ACL tear normally takes four-five months to heal before an athlete can start practicing.

Staff members added that though there was still a chance of his being able to attain peak form in the coming three weeks before the Games kick off, the fact that the final squad had to be picked this week hampered the choice. “The coaches and selectors are all praise for his effort in doing what many thought was clearly impossible. But they did not want to risk either his rehabilitation or the team’s chances. They took the decision purely on the basis of the situation at the moment,” sources added. Lakra has returned home for the time being and team sources said though he was obviously disappointed, Lakra had been mentally prepared for this decision.

In his absence, there would be increased pressure on the lone goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh, who shared a good understanding with Lakra in defence. He is likely to be replaced by Surender Kumar, who impressed with his tackling in both the Champions Trophy and the six-nation competition. Youngster Harmanpreet Singh, named the most promising young player at the Champions Trophy, is also likely to make the cut as the third drag-flicker in the team, along with seasoned V. R. Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh, to shore up the defence. Captain Sardar Singh is likely to be switched between middle and forward lines to support an inexperienced attack line.