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My solidity is a boost for Indian hockey team forwards, says PR Sreejesh

At the Champions Trophy earlier this month, where India finished runners-up to Australia, PR Sreejesh came on his own as the bulwark of defence, making brilliant saves to win the best goalkeeper award.

other sports Updated: Jul 30, 2018 16:34 IST
Avishek Roy
Avishek Roy
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PR Sreejesh,Indian hockey team,Hockey
Indian goal-keeper PR Sreejesh in action during the 2018 Champions Trophy (Hockey India)

When PR Sreejesh returned to the national side after an eight-month injury lay-off, there were concerns whether the ace goalkeeper could regain his charisma under the bar. His replacements Akash Chikte and Suraj Karkera, too, had done well. It, however, took Sreejesh less than six months to underline his class and wrestle back the Indian captaincy.

At the Champions Trophy earlier this month, where India finished runners-up to Australia, Sreejesh came on his own as the bulwark of defence, making brilliant saves to win the best goalkeeper award.

The performance at Breda became the turning point. “I was not at my best at the Commonwealth Games because it takes time to get back your rhythm after injury. But after Champions Trophy I can say that Sreejesh is here to stay,” the goalkeeper said in an interview.

“I have been able to give this confidence to the forwards, that ‘Don’t worry, Sreejesh is there at the back.’ That is important to me. I have never compared my performances. My aim has always been to improve with every performance and be an added strength to the side.”

As he was struggling to learn to ‘walk again’ during the recovery phase after suffering a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury last year, Sreejesh discovered life outside the sport. Getting to spend time with family, developing the habit to read, helped him change his approach. “Before the injury hockey was everything in my life. Now I know even if I am out of hockey, there are other important things in life. I am confident, calmer and wiser now.”

With Sreejesh back to his best, the Indian defence look more solid and it showed in the Champions Trophy where they were able to stave off late charges and drew against teams like Belgium, Netherlands and Australia.

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“The competition among the top 16 is really close. If you look at our performance, we beat Argentina, drew with Holland and Belgium and we should have beaten Australia in the final. These are the top teams in the world,” Sreejesh said.

“On a given day, we can beat any team but can we do that consistently? You cannot play at your best and beat a top team one day and drop your level the next day. It is about how hungry you are.”

“There has been a lot of improvement since the previous Champions Trophy. We played better hockey and we dominated. Each player was hungry and that reflected on the result. Yes, I was really disappointed with our performance in the final. We created opportunities but we did not take the chances.”

The defence has a mix of youth and experience and the return of Birendra Lakra and Surender Kumar has added to the strength of the backline. “We were able to manage crucial draws because of the defence. I feel now there is lot more coordination and communication among the defenders.”

The bigger challenge ahead is the Asian Games starting August 18 where India are the defending champions. A gold is the prized possession as it will also ensure qualification for 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Yes there will be added pressure because of Olympic qualification. But the pressure will be same for all teams. Our focus is self improvement and analysing our own game.”

Sreejesh appreciated the freedom given to the players by new coach Harendra Singh. “He has his own style and he knows how to bring out the best from players. He has not brought too many changes. Almost all the players, at some point in the past, have worked under Harendra and that has helped the team gel well.”

First Published: Jul 28, 2018 09:47 IST