India hockey team captain Manpreet Singh had been running a high fever during the team's fixture against Belgium and was doubtful to play in the final Pool C match against Canada. But the Indian skipper led his team on the pitch as the host secured a place in the quarterfinals with a 5-1 thumping of Canada.

In the match against The Netherlands, Manpreet clocked 19 minutes without being substituted, to keep his team in the hunt of a goal and accounted for three vital interceptions. His determination to help the team is something which makes Manpreet the best man to lead India, according to former India captain M.M. Somaya.

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“Manpreet is an outstanding captain. He is there in attack, in defence, always composed, never letting his guard down. After the (Netherlands) match, I told him that he will lead the team for many more years, because he has the potential. He may not be vocal, but he communicates in a different way. That is the kind of role a captain plays in hockey,” the former captain said in Bhubaneswar.

Somaya also felt that the current team can cope without former midfielder Sardar Singh, who announced his retirement in September. “Sardar Singh has played all the major tournaments for India for almost 12 years and he was one of the best players in the world. But, during that time, India did not win a major tournament. In some tournaments, they have won without him too,” he said.


Indian captain Manpreet Singh and Thijs van Dam compete for the ball during the quarterfinal match at the Kalinga Stadium.


Sardar Singh’s retirement also opened up chances for youngsters such as Hardik Singh, Sumit and Nilakanta Sharma to showcase their talents on the big stage. “It could be the idea of Hockey India to groom a younger midfielder alongside Manpreet at the World Cup. Also the team was the same group of players at the Junior World Cup (2017) and their style is to attack and defend in unison. Sardar has a different style of play. He had vision and lovely ball distribution, but I am not certain if he would have played at the same pace as the younger lot. It is better to groom a youngster for the Olympic qualification at a World Cup, than to wait till the Olympics,” said Somaya, who captained India at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Somaya also said that P.R.Sreejesh’s services have been critical to India’s development despite conceding a crucial second goal from a penalty corner against The Netherlands that led to the host’s exit from the World Cup. “Sreejesh might have had a bad game, but he has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He has served the country with distinction. If he does not play in the future, you definitely need to groom others,” he said.

The current Australian team had named Aran Zalewski, Eddie Ockenden as the co-captains ahead of the World Cup, while India coach Harendra Singh also hinted at having a group of six core players to share the leadership duties. Somaya, felt that the concept of co-captaincy might not work in the Indian set up.

“There were two captains for India at the 1968 Olympics –Prithipal Singh and Gurbux Singh. It unfortunately didn’t work well and India did not make it to the final. It should be the majority of the team which should decide if they are going to have two captains in the team. Otherwise, there could be the risk of the team going with one captain and not the other,” he said.

The writer is in Bhubaneswar on an invitation from the Sports Journalists’ Federation of India.