Birendra Lakra named best male player

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Melbourne: In another whiz of pride to the State, Odia defender Birendra Lakra was today named the “Player of Year” in the male category at the inaugural Hockey India (HI) annual awards here.

Striker Vandana Kataria was named the “Player of Year” in female category while three-time Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh Sr got the “Lifetime Achievement” award.

Kataria was also a favourite to win the “Dhruv Batra Award for Player of the Year”, but it had a surprise winner in Birendra, who hails from the tribal district of Sundergarh in Odisha that has produced a series of stars in the past. Birendra and Vandana both became richer by Rs 25,00,000.

Youngsters stole the show in all the award categories at the glittering ceremony, barring the “Baljit Singh Award for Goalkeeper of the Year” which was won by vice-captain P.R. Sreejesh.

Like Sreejesh, the media shy Birendra was part of the 2014 Asian Games-winning team and the silver medal-winning side in the Commonwealth Games 2014.

For the award, Birendra pipped Sreejesh and young Akashdeep Singh, who had moments to cheer by claiming the “Dhanraj Pillay Award for Forward of the Year”. Akashdeep overcame seasoned S.V. Sunil and ace woman striker Vandana for the award.

“Birendra has been consistent throughout the last year and was a crucial member in all major tournaments. He deserves the award,” Roelant Oltmans, high performance director, said, praising the 25-year-old.

For the “Ajit Pal Singh Award for Midfielder of the Year”, Manpreet Singh was chosen ahead of teammate Dharamvir Singh and women’s team captain Ritu Rani.

For the “Pargat Singh Award for Defender of the Year”, talented Deepika was a surprising winner ahead of favourites Birendra and Kothajit Singh.

The “Jugraj Singh Award for Upcoming Player of the Year” went to defender and penalty corner exponent Harmanpreet Singh while the “Asunta Lakra Award for Upcoming Player of the Year” was won by defender Namita Toppo.

The “Dhruv Batra Award for Woman Player of the Year” went to Vandana, who got the better of her captain Ritu and steely defender Deepika.

In the “Major Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement Award” category, Balbir was a natural choice. The 90-year-old was a member of the Olympic gold medal-winning teams in 1948, 1952 and 1956.

Considered the sport’s greatest centre-forward after Dhyan Chand, Balbir still holds the world record of most goals scored by an individual in an Olympic men’s hockey final. He set this record when he scored five goals in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal game of the 1952 Olympic Games.

He also captained the side to Olympic glory in the 1956 Games. He was the manager and chief coach of the Indian team for the 1975 World Cup, which India won, and the 1971 World Cup, when India earned a bronze medal.

During the London Olympics in 2012, Balbir was honoured in the Olympic Museum exhibition, “The Olympic Journey: The Story of the Games” held at the Royal Opera House. The exhibition tells the story of the Olympic Games from its creation in 776 B.C. through to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

He was one of the 16 iconic Olympians chosen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) whose example “tells of human strength and endeavour, of passion, determination, hard work and achievement and demonstrates the values of the Olympic Movement”.

On receiving the award, an overwhelmed Balbir said that getting recognition from HI made the award memorable.

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