PR Sreejesh: "We will have 11 captains on the field"
The word ‘outstanding’ can never be an understatement. Can it? Well, when it comes to PR Sreejesh and his performances on the field, it might just be the case. That’s how good he has been.
The trip to Rio will be the Kerala-native’s second experience of the Olympics after the bitter experience of London 2012, where India finished last after failing to win a single game throughout the tournament. However, the last four years, the Sreejesh’s rise has coincided with the rise in fortunes of the Indian hockey team as the 30-year-old himself has carved out a niche for himself as one of the best shot-stoppers in the world.
He has not only become India’s last line of defence but a wall at the back that most teams have found impervious on most occasions. And thus, when the Indian team was announced for the Olympics, many were caught off-guard when Sardar Singh was stripped of the captaincy. However, to see Roelant Oltmans entrust Sreejesh with the armband was not at all a surprise.
And he certainly seems to be enjoying the spotlight. “Its’s a great honour as well as a great responsibility leading our national side into such a big event. But I am enjoying it,” say India’s new captain in between clicking selfies with the SAI youngsters who had come to see their heroes. It was a great sight to see as Sreejesh himself geed them up to make noise.
With his superb camaraderie with the youngsters on show, it was certainly no surprise that it was under him that India finally delivered at the Champions Trophy earlier as the likes of Sardar Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh were given a well-deserved rest. The medal that they brought from England might have been silver, but the boost that they got from the performance was certainly had its weight in gold.
Wasn’t expecting captaincy, but I won’t be the only captain in Rio
“It would be a lie to say I expected the captaincy at this point of time, but as our coach said I won’t be the only captain on the field. I won’t even be wearing the armband,” Sreejesh bares his honest heart out. “This helps us to distribute the responsibility amongst the players, I believe. This helps us to create a better bond and eventually help us play better."
The man who has been dubbed as the new “Wall of India” also seemed nonplussed by the idea of Sardar Singh having to play under him. “We don’t play under anyone. All eleven players are captain in the own rights. We have one single goal; all 16 of us. And each one has taken up the responsibility to be a captain and give our all to make our team play to the best of our capabilities."
Sreejesh certainly wasn't mincing his words, "Whether it's Sardar playing under me or vice-versa, we only have one aim, to get the gold in the Olympics. We perform as a team and will be trying to get glory as a team."
The format changes don't make much of a difference
With the format of the Olympics been changed to let the top four teams from the group stage through to the quarter-finals this time round, many had questions regarding how this will affect the competition. Even India’s coach Roelant Oltmans had aired his views regarding the same, saying that this might dilute the importance of the league stage with many many teams harbouring the chance for qualifying even after winning a couple of games at most.
However, Sreejesh blew any concerns out of the water as he claimed that they were solely focussed on qualifying to the quarters at first and will take it from there. “We need to beat at least two teams to get to the last four. But we want to win as many games and reach the next stage and get a better draw in the next round” quipped the 30-year-old. “Whilst this might seem like making qualifying to the knock-out rounds easy, but this also makes the qualifying round tougher to get through.”
“There is no easy matches here. This is the Olympics. Whether playing against Ireland or playing against Germany, we have to maintain the same level of commitment and concentration,” our new skipper signs off.
The Indian team after a number of years look like one of the favourites to win a medal and with an upswing of results in recent, times the team is going into this with a buoyant mood.
However, many might say India will go as far as Sreejesh takes them as was evident in the Champions Trophy final where he pulled off arguably, the game of his career to bring India within inches of the gold.
Dave Staniforth, the person who Sreejesh had trained under to sharpen his goalkeeping skills, was also flown in from South Africa to work with him. He certainly knows how many expectations both the country as well as the team has from him.
And it looks like he is leaving no stone unturned as he prepares to be the captain who finally brings home a medal in hockey after 36 long years, proving once and for all that “outstanding” is truly an understatement for his performances.