Interview with PR Sreejesh: "Having road named after me is an honour"
PR Sreejesh is the Rock of Gibraltar’ in the Indian goalmouth – he instills confidence in the defence with his doughty saves and eases the nerves of his fullbacks when the opposition mounts a foray in the Indian ‘D’. The 27-year-old Indian goalkeeper has the knack of not letting down his team in crunch situations – he was at his best paving the way for the Incheon Asiad gold with a penalty shootout final game win over arch-rivals Pakistan and then again at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, he helped the country bag a bronze pipping Korea in another shootout. His recent goalkeeping exploits saw the Kerala government (his home state) name a road after him – Olympian Sreejesh Road – in his native village Kizhakkambalam. Sreejesh talks about his latest honour and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q How does it feel to have a road named after you?
It’s an honour I will cherish the most. I’m thankful to the Kerala government for bestowing such an honour on me. The road is named Olympian Sreejesh Road in my native village Kizhakkambalam – it is close to where I stay – in fact, I could see the road from my house.
Q Players are accorded such honours when they have retired while in your case you got it when your hockey career is at your peak. Your thoughts.
Well, getting such an honour in my playing career is a big boost for me to strive hard and perform even better and make my country proud. More importantly, I’m the first hockey player from my village Kizhakkambalam and I hope this honour will encourage youngsters from my village to take up hockey as a sport and see a career in it.
Q You recently had a job switch as well – you left Indian Overseas Bank and landed a Kerala state government job.
I joined the Kerala education department, where I operate as a chief sports organizer. I basically look after the school-level sports activities across the country whenever I’m free from my hockey commitments. Leaving IOB meant that I could be in my hometown and spend more time with my family, especially my little daughter.
Q Do you think the recent four Test series against Japan was a bit of a wake-up call for India given the fight the Asian side put up against us?
I don’t think we really need to bother too much about the results. The Test series was more of an opportunity to try all the players so that we can be a strong unit for the Hockey World League semifinals. Of course, Japan is a decent team and in modern hockey no team irrespective of its world ranking can be taken lightly.
Q The real positive of the Indian team in recent years has been its ability to beat top teams like Australia, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium- in fact India have beaten world champions Australia four times in last twelve months.
Look, Australia are a consistent side and beating them gives you the feeling that this team can play serious hockey. Of course, we have to learn to beat Australia in crunch games – we lost to them in the bronze medal play-off at the 2014 Champions Trophy and at the 2015 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup we played splendidly to beat them, but it was a no pressure game for them while we had to win to make it to the bronze medal play-off round. We have also beaten the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium last years – it just shows Indian hockey is progressing and in the right direction.
Q There is a general line of thinking that Sreejesh turns out to be India’s saviour on most occasions, putting our defence in poor light. Do you think our defence is really fragile?
There is always room for improvement, even for me as a goalkeeper. I don’t think our defence is our weakling – we have sturdy players in the backline who can hold their own against the best in the business.
Q What’s your take on the acrobatic saves that you churn out from time to time?
I’m lucky that I’m in the right position to produce those kinds of saves in the goalmouth, whereas there are also occasions I’m unlucky and let in goals. The fact is when you make brilliant saves, it lifts the morale of the teammates as they get the confidence to attack more, but if I make a silly goalkeeping error, then the team gets edgy and tends to play defensive hockey.
Q At the 2015 Hockey World League semifinals, India are placed in Pool A alongside Australia, Pakistan, Poland and France. How do you assess India’s chances?
Every team is tough in our group and we need to be at our best to beat these teams. We will be aiming for a top-four finish in the Hockey World League semifinals.