Can P R Sreejesh do at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics what Shankar Lakshman did at the Tokyo Games in 1964?

Can P R Sreejesh do at Tokyo 2021 what Shankar Lakshman did at Tokyo Olympics in 1964?
Can P R Sreejesh do at Tokyo 2021 what Shankar Lakshman did at Tokyo Olympics in 1964?

P R Sreejesh has really seen it all. From the lows of finishing last at the London Olympics, to playing in his third edition at the Tokyo Olympics, he has gained vast experience.

Recently, the men's hockey squad for the Tokyo Olympics has been announced. Contrary to expectations, it is a rather young team, with barely 6 players having the experience of playing at least one Olympics before.

However, Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh is not one of the young ones. He is the prime goalkeeper in the Indian team heading to the Tokyo Olympics. In modern terms, he is to Indian hockey what Mahendra Singh Dhoni is to Indian cricket.

However, for die-hard hockey lovers, P R Sreejesh can become the modern Shankar Lakshman Shekhawat. Shankar brought unprecedented glory to India at the previous Tokyo Olympics, while having witnessed the worst as well.

Who is Shankar Lakshman Shekhawat, the hero of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics?

Honorary Captain Shankar Lakshman - One of India's most unsung heroes ever
Honorary Captain Shankar Lakshman - One of India's most unsung heroes ever

If most don't know, Honorary Captain Shankar Lakshman Shekhawat is one of the most unsung Indian sporting heroes. Long before Rahul Dravid, it was Shankar Lakshman, who was originally known as 'The Wall'.

A member of the brass bands of the Indian Army, he was originally a goalkeeper for the football team of the Services. However, luck brought him to field hockey. He clinched a gold medal at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 on debut with the Indian hockey team, conceding no goal at all.

However, he unintentionally brought ignominy to India in 1960. At the Rome Olympics, India faced Pakistan for the 2nd consecutive time in the finals.

An unintentional slip by Shankar in the 6th minute led to a goal from Pakistan, which India could never recover from. Despite Shankar's best efforts, the goal could not be saved. India was forced to be content with a silver medal for the first time in 32 years.

However, Shankar did not give up. He quietly endured the insults heaped upon him. By the time he went to the Tokyo Olympics, Shankar Lakshman was resolute - either he would come back with a gold medal or he wouldn't come back at all.

He kept his promise, and India beat Pakistan in the Tokyo Olympics finals by an identical score of 1-0 to win back their lost honor. More than goal scorer Mohinder Lal, it was Shankar Lakshman who was honored with praise throughout. He had regained his honor, and he had regained his nation's pride.

What makes Sreejesh's struggles as relevant as that of Shankar Lakshman?

P R Sreejesh - The Renaissance Man of Indian Hockey
P R Sreejesh - The Renaissance Man of Indian Hockey

Likewise, P R Sreejesh's story is not very different. Though he wasn't exactly the main goalkeeper at the London Olympics, he saw much worse. From the sidelines, he saw his team biting the wooden spoon.

His team could not win even a single match in that edition, much worse than the team not being able to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

However, like Shankar Lakshman, P R Sreejesh refused to give up. Though he didn't belong to the Indian Army, he was every inch of a soldier.

It was he who led Team India to a surprise gold medal at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014. He saved 3 stupendous goals against Pakistan to give India its first direct ticket to any Olympics since the Bangkok Asian Games of 1998.

However, PR Sreejesh wasn't content with that. He led his team to a historic bronze medal at the FIH World League Finals in 2015. This was India's first medal in any FIH tournament since 1982. As if that was not enough, P R Sreejesh also led India to a historic final against Australia in the 2016 FIH Champions Trophy.

Though India lost that final, the team under Sreejesh forced the Aussies to fight it out in a shootout for the ultimate honors. Had it not been for a lousy defense against Belgium in the quarterfinals, India's Olympic medal drought would've ended at the Rio Olympics itself.

Now he's the leader of a vibrant team gunning for glory at the Tokyo Olympics.

Sreejesh has a chance to recreate history at the Tokyo Olympics

So the question persists, can Sreejesh do at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 what Shankar Lakshman did at Tokyo in 1964? Yes, he can. He has the capability. He has charisma.

Above all, he has vast experience, which will be of immense use to the young players, some of whom have tasted historic success at the Junior World Cup in 2016 and the Youth Olympics in 2018.

The Tokyo Olympics has to be the Sparta moment for India's greatest ever goalkeeper since Shankar Lakshman Shekhawat. I'm sure Sreejesh wouldn't want to miss that.

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Edited by Rohit Mishra
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