INTERVIEW: Champions Trophy starting point for us, says Indian hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh
He was supposed to be the first choice goalkeeper for India at the 34th FIH Champions Trophy in Melbourne, but a hamstring injury sustained in the preceding Lanco Super Series game against Australia saw PR Sreejesh’s campaign in the elite tournament end even before it started.
Sreejesh’s injury-induced withdrawal paved the way for reserve goalkeeper PT Rao to make his international debut. And what a performance the 34-year-old Services goalie dished out at the premier tournament – a performance which made all and sundry sit up and take notice of him.
Sreejesh, who is ten years younger than Rao, revealed how his injury led to his pullout first from the Lanco Super Series and later the Champions Trophy. “I suffered a hamstring injury in the Lanco Super Series match against Australia. I played that match for about sixty minutes and it was then that I suffered the hamstring injury, and Rao played the last ten minutes and subsequently in the other matches of that event,” Sreejesh told Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.
Sreejesh regrets his injury-induced pullout but is very happy to see his replacement pull his weight. “Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsperson’s life. There is nothing much you can do about it. I’m really happy for PT Rao – he was simply superb in the Champions Trophy,” he quipped.
The Kerala lad was full of praise for Rao’s presence in the side. “Rao is a great team member. He is funny as well and has a great sense of humor. He gels well with the team members and never gives the impression that he is a senior player in the side.”
Rao’s stellar show in Melbourne has only cranked up competition in the Indian goalkeeping department. London Olympics captain Bharat Chetri is out of the side, while Sushant Tirkey – named the best goalkeeper in the 2nd Sultan of Johor Cup – was in Australia as a cover for the injured Sreejesh.
Sreejesh feels that healthy competition is good for the team. “Healthy competition is great for the side, Indian hockey will benefit from this, what it does, it keeps everyone on their toes and ensures no one can get complacent. Even if I don’t perform, I will be out of the side,” he puts things in perspective.
The talented goalkeeper believes India’s fourth place finish at the Champions Trophy should serve as a nice platform to kickstart the revival journey of Indian hockey. “We should see this performance as a starting point for us –a platform from where we can build our side for the 2016 Rio Olympics which is our main target,” he opines.
Sreejesh reckons the Champions Trophy stint will do a world of good to the youngsters. “Ours was a pretty young side. I think it was a good exposure for the youngsters, especially those who made their international debut,” he observed.
He is confident of being fit for the 2nd Asian Champions Trophy beginning in Doha from December 20. “At the moment, I’m not doing any training, only gym work. I will be assess my fitness in Patiala by undergoing a fitness test. I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” he exuded hope.
The Indian team’s backline put up an outstanding display at the Champions Trophy. Sreejesh was mighty impressed as well. “Our defence did a fantastic job in the Champions Trophy. The boys had worked really hard at the camp and it showed in our effort in Melbourne,” he added.
Sreejesh was the hero in the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy last year, where he effected two brilliant saves in the penalty shootout of the final game against Pakistan, which India won 4-2. “Any win against Pakistan is hugely satisfying. My performance in that final match helped to establish myself in the national side. It’s like an once-in-a-lifetime thing for me,” he recalls.
How does he assess India’s chances at the 2012 Asian Champions Trophy. “We have the team that can defend the title. We are positive about a fine display,” he sings an upbeat tone.
Does he harbor disappointments over missing a bronze medal at the Champions Trophy by a whisker? “Not really. A fourth place finish is a creditable achievement for India,” he signed off.