Rio Olympics 2016: Birendra Lakra will not feature in India's men's hockey squad due to injury
Ace defender Birendra Lakra’s Rio dream is all but over. Tuesday’s announcement of the final 16-member squad selected by Hockey India for the upcoming Olympics is expected to confirm the same but according to sources, it is more than apparent already that he will not be travelling with the team this time around, owing to his knee injury.
The 26-year-old Odisha fullback had damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing for the Kalinga Lancers against Dabang Mumbai during a Hockey India League game in February.
The ACL reconstruction surgery was performed in March following which Lakra had been under an intensive rehab programme which kept him out of action throughout India's outings at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia and the 2016 Champions Trophy in London.
Just before the last preparatory tour for the Olympics was about to commence in Valencia, Birendra made himself available for the Six Nations Championship by clearing all the requisite fitness examinations. It was something to cheer for the Indian fans who are aware of his immense value in shaping the back line for the national team.
However, his comeback to competitive action turned out to be disappointing. Watchful eyes that monitored his gameplay in Valencia were convinced of his lack of complete fitness which raised further questions about his suitability for an event as big as the Rio Olympics 2016.
Rushing his return now could prove to be counter-productive, which has led to the officials’ reluctance on keeping him in India’s Olympic team, sources said.
In the absence of Lakra, young Surender Kumar is expected to fill in his boots in defence, with Harmanpreet Singh looking to be a certainty in the final squad. Seasoned drag-flickers Rupinder Pal Singh and Vokkaliga Raghunath being the two other obvious defensive picks, goalkeeper P R Sreejesh would have to ensure a solid performance at the backline if they are to silence the criticism that has surrounded their preventive abilities in the recent past.