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CWG 2022:  "Commonwealth Games is a tournament that is prestigious for all the teams, so everyone is there to win the tournament" - PR Sreejesh   

From undergoing surgery in 2017 to an Olympic bronxe, Sreejesh has had a remarkable journey
From undergoing surgery in 2017 to an Olympic bronxe, Sreejesh has had a remarkable journey
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Subhashish Majumdar

PR Sreejesh is all set to perform goalkeeping duties for the Indian men's hockey team at the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, starting 28 July.

The veteran custodian, who was part of the squad at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, knows better than most what it takes to win gold at the prestigious tournament.

He said:

"Commonwealth Games is a tournament that is prestigious for all the teams, so everyone is there to win the tournament."

Over the course of an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda ahead of Birmingham 2022, Sreejesh sized up India's old nemesis Australia, looking back at his comeback during the previous edition of the tournament and arguing why Indian hockey is a lot more stable now than in 2018.

The Indians find themselves in Pool B alongside England, Canada, Wales and Ghana. Six-time champions Australia are in Pool A, which also comprises New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Scotland.

Both history and current rankings point to the possibility of an India-Australia clash in the knockout stage.

The Indians have never beaten the Aussies in the history of the tournament. Two ignominous defeats in the 2010 and 2014 finals dwarfed a lot of the good work that the Men in Blue put in en route to the title clash.

It was goalkeeper Bharat Chetri who bore the brunt when the Kookaburras decimated India 8-0 at Delhi in 2010, but Sreejesh too is well aware of what the Aussies are capable of. He was on the receiving end of a 0-4 drubbing in Glasgow in 2014.

Sreejesh asserted:

"Australia are one of the best teams in the world and they are mentally stronger than any other team."

The top-ranked side in world hockey haven't been part of the ongoing FIH Hockey Pro League, so will they be rusty and easier to beat in Birmingham?

Stay tuned for the updated Commonwealth Games medal table on Sportskeeda.

The veteran goalkeeper disagrees strongly. He stated:

"Domestic hockey in Australia is really great. When they play hockey at a club level or domestic level, that is equivalent to international hockey."
"Of course, we will face Australia in the semifinals or finals for sure. But, we need to be mentally and physically prepared for that."

India's No. 1 goalkeeper was on the comeback trail during CWG in 2018 after having undergone surgery the previous year.

From re-learning how to walk in 2017 to capturing the Olympic bronze medal in 2021 has been quite a journey for the 34-year-old custodian. He revealed that the return from injury made him enjoy the game even more.

He said:

"For an athlete, injury makes a lot of difference. The injury forced me or gave me an opportunity to think about something else, like my family."
"Definitely, sports is a part of your life, but it's not your life. So, when I realized those things, my approach towards hockey changed and I think I am enjoying hockey much better now."

"Since Graham Reid joined, things have been stable" - Sreejesh

Sreejesh in action during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
Sreejesh in action during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

The change of coach from Sjoerd Marijne to Harendra Singh that followed the team's inability to win a medal at Gold Coast CWG in 2018 is fresh in the memory. Fans are undoubtedly relieved that all is now well as far as Indian hockey is concerned. Graham Reid's appointment as the head coach has brought stability to the team, and Sreejesh concurs.

The Indian men are currently ranked fourth in the world as per the FIH, behind Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Wearing this smile to hide the pain inside .... Expecting this life will give us a new opportunity to over come this .. Time to say goodbye to the village ... Bon voyage #CommonwealthGames2018 @GC2018 https://t.co/vGDQZpQxpS

Sreejesh said:

"Selection into the team is the responsibilty of the coaches and the selectors. A change of coaches and support staff is the responsibility of the federation."
"Being a player, it is my responsibility when I step out on the field to give one-hundred percent and play at my best level."

He added:

"It's true, a lot happened in 2018 but since Graham Reid joined, things have been stable. The only change that happened was when Chris Ciriello was replaced as the Analytical Coach and that was because he wasn't well."
PR Sreejesh makes comeback, Sardar Singh dropped from CWG bound squad indiatvnews.com/sports/other-a…
"Gregg Clark is now on the team and we have a very good coaching team currently. Things are moving ahead smoothly and results are there to be seen."

So what next for India's No. 1 goalkeeper after an Olympic bronze? Even as Kishan Pathak and Suraj Karkera work hard on their goalkeeping skills, Sreejesh still strives to improve, battling with himself to do better each day.

He said:

"Kishan Pathak and Suraj Karkera are working really hard and they are improving. My challenge is beating myself because I never try to compare myself with anybody."
"I tell myself, Sree what you were yesterday, you have to be better today and tomorrow you are going to be better than today."

Motivation is not an issue for the stalwart as he aims to win gold at the upcoming Commonwealth Games and the World Cup but chooses to keep short-term goals as working towards them is simpler.

Sreejesh stated:

"We don't have a World Cup medal, we don't have a Commonwealth Games gold. In fact, I don't have an Olympic gold medal. "
"I now have short-term targets like CWG and the Pro League. When you have short-term targets, you can then train with a lot of energy to achieve those."

Edited by Puranjay Dixit
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