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Hockey India (HI) on Tuesday appointed experienced defender Birendra Lakra of Odisha as the vice-captain of the 16-member Olympic-bound Indian Men's Hockey Team.
Lakra has been appointed as the deputy of the team along with Harmanpreet Singh. Midfielder Manpreet Singh will be the Captain of the squad.
Earlier on Monday, HI had appointed experienced defender Deep Grace Ekka of Odisha as the vice-captain of the Indian women’s hockey team for the mega competition.
Birendra is a veteran defender who was also part of the London Olympic Games but sadly missed playing in Rio owing to a major knee surgery in 2016. But since his return to the squad following the brief break due to injury, Birendra has only grown in his performance and has been resolute in his role in the team.
Under Manpreet's captaincy, the Indian team over the past four years have achieved important milestones including winning the Asia Cup in 2017, winning the Asian Champions Trophy in 2018 as well winning the FIH Series Final in 2019. The team led by Manpreet also made it to the quarterfinals of the FIH Men's World Cup 2018 in Bhubaneswar. They performed exceedingly well in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2020 before the pandemic disrupted the schedule. This will be Manpreet's third Olympic Games and under his leadership, the team has also improved their world ranking as they are currently positioned at No.4.
Meanwhile, Harmanpreet since his senior India debut in 2015 has grown in his role as a drag flicker and defender. In the absence of skipper Manpreet in 2019, Harmanpreet led the Indian team to a win at the FIH Olympic Test event in Tokyo.
Congratulating the three players, chief coach Graham Reid said, "All three players have been an integral part of the team's leadership over these past couple of years and have shown a lot of maturity in guiding the youngsters during these challenging times. Naming two vice-captains we believe will also strengthen our leadership in what is going to be a demanding tournament. We are confident that together they will guide the team to success.”
Expressing his gratitude on being named captain of the Olympic-bound Indian men's team, Manpreet said, "This Olympics will be truly special, and I am humbled to have this opportunity of representing India at the Olympics for the third time, this time as team captain. It is a very proud moment for me to be given this charge. Over these past few years, we have developed a strong leadership group and have successfully overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic to not drop our form and keep our minds and fitness-focused towards doing well at the Olympics."
Birendra too stated that this Olympics is special for him and being named the vice-captain of the team has only made this all the more special. "This will be a very special Olympic Games as we have prepared really well and are poised to win a medal in Tokyo. Being named as a Vice-Captain along with Harmanpreet is a matter of pride for me and over these past years with India, we have seen players show great mental toughness during our preparations despite these trying times. We just hope to make the hard work and sacrifices count by winning big," stated Lakra.
India will begin their campaign in Tokyo on 24 July 2021 when they take on New Zealand in their first Pool stage match.
(With Inputs From Hockey India)