Somaya and Eliza on India’s chances in Rio

Somaya expressed confidence in India’s ability to push the other teams in men’s hockey competition and felt that the new captain Sreejesh is a capable leader.

Former Indian hockey captain M. M. Somaya and former women's national player Eliza Nelson at the golden jubilee celebrations of the Sports Journalists Association, in Mumbai.   -  Vivek Bendre

Two former India captains discussed ‘Hockey at Rio’, at a Sports Journalists Association of Mumbai (SJAM) event organised to launch its golden jubilee celebrations.

M. Somaya was the India skipper (1988 Seoul Olympics) with multiple Olympic appearances. Eliza Nelson led the women’s team at the 1982 Asian Games and was a team member at the 1980 Moscow Games, the last time India women qualified for the Olympics before the 2016 batch crossed over the line.

Somaya expressed confidence in India’s ability to push the other teams in men’s hockey competition and felt that the new captain Sreejesh is a capable leader. Eliza pointed out that Ritu Rani’s absence will be felt by the women’s squad. The latter plotted the side’s progress through the qualifiers but was excluded by selectors when the team for Rio was chosen. Sushila Chanu is the captain.

Somaya believed that India men, under coach Dutchman Roelant Oltmans, had noteworthy qualities. “I feel this team is going to push the other sides closely and can be termed a medal contender, which I have not felt (about Indian teams) for a long time,” said the former India midfielder.

“Oltmans appears to have got the understanding right. The focus is on a playing system rather than individual flair. We won a silver in the Champions Trophy when Sardar Singh was not in the squad. The coach is using the rolling substitution rule beautifully, keeping players on for short bursts. India is playing at the pace needed to match leading teams at this level.”

Eliza hoped the women’s squad under Chanu will match top teams. “Ritu Rani’s absence will be felt. It is said she was distracted at the camp, did not reach the required fitness level. She could have been guided by the team coach or one of the support staff. It is sad that Ritu, who played her part in India’s Olympic qualification after 36 years, had to be dropped not just as captain, but also from the team itself.”

Sushila can manage the situation and will be able to carry the players with her, observed Eliza. “This team is different from the 1980 group in terms of international exposure. My worry is about the danger of fielding the same faces for each tournament, instead of building a team for the main event, like what other nations do. Successful nations try out different group of players in exposure tours and bring in the main side for competitions like the Olympics. I hope this Indian side wins matches.”

Somaya was confident about Sreejesh’s appointment as India captain, in place of Sardar. “Sreejesh is known to be a positive influence on and off the field. The captain is the link between Oltmans and his teammates and should be able to guide the team in tactics in line with the coach’s thinking.”

He felt having a goalkeeper as the team leader will be helpful and create more leaders on the field. “A goalkeeper has limitations in terms of proximity to action. The distance between Sreejesh and others on the pitch will result in other seniors taking decision-making responsibility. S.V. Sunil in the forwardline and Sardar in the midfield will operate as captains in case split-second decisions need to be taken,” Somaya pointed out. He added: “In hockey, the coach cannot play, at the most he can pass on ideas via signals.”

Olympians Gurbax Singh, Joaquim Carvalho, Selma D’Silva, World Cup player Yuvraj Walmiki, among others were present at the C.K. Nayudu Hall, CCI, on the occasion.

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