Road to Asian Games: How the return of Sreejesh as captain can work wonders for the Indian team
Following an average show at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where despite some thrilling moments, the Indian men's hockey team missed the podium by a whisker.
The national body for field hockey, Hockey India, have taken some quick decision, keeping in view the ultra-important schedule for the year 2018, which includes the Jakarta Asian Games 2018, the ultimate ticket to the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Keeping in mind the importance of the Asian Games, as well as the upcoming editions of FIH Champions Trophy and the FIH Hockey World Cup, the Hockey India has declared that legendary goalkeeper Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh, and star forward Rani Rampal shall be the captains of the respective Indian hockey teams until the end of the year.
Sreejesh, the hockey superstar
What Lt. Col. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is to Indian cricket, the same stands for P R Sreejesh with respect to Indian hockey.
The decision to appoint Sreejesh as the captain is more than welcome, for he has led India to unthinkable achievements, be it the Asian Champions Trophy in 2016, or the historic silver at the FIH Hockey Champions Trophy in the same year.
Had it not been for a wobbly defence, Sreejesh could've lead India to a miraculous podium finish at the Rio Olympics, given that under his leadership, India had entered the knockout stages of the Olympic hockey after a whopping 36 years.
Even when he was off the field, Sreejesh's invaluable assistance as a goalkeeping mentor led the junior colts to an unthinkable victory at the FIH Men's Junior Hockey World Cup, where the Indian boys won the title after a staggering 15 years, also becoming the first hockey team to win the coveted trophy on their home soil in the process.
Effect of his captaincy on the team
The return of Sreejesh as the captain of the team is one of the best decisions taken up by Hockey India.
The experience that this gutsy goalkeeper carries on his shoulders is invaluable for the team and has come handy at the FIH Champions Trophy, where the goalkeeper led his team to a miraculous final, where they surprised Australia and forced them to fight it out for the title in the penalty shootout.
Though they lost by 1-3, the fact that Australia was compelled to fight it out in the finals is nothing less than commendable, and Sreejesh deserves a lion's share of applause for that.
Given that the next tournament for Team India is the last edition of the FIH Champions Trophy, to be held in Breda, Netherlands, Sreejesh will aim to give it his all to see India on the top of the podium, if possible.
No Asian team has ever won the FIH Champions Trophy since 1994 when Pakistan won the edition on their home soil at Lahore for the last time.
As such, it would be nothing less than historical if India repeats their 2016 dream run at the Champions Trophy, or even go a notch better than that, which would boost their confidence in the runup to the upcoming Asian Games.
What Sreejesh needs to keep in check?
If Sreejesh needs to ensure that India sail through the Champions Trophy, make the cut for Tokyo 2020, and also reach the podium at the FIH Hockey World Cup, he needs to keep a few things in check.
First of all, he needs to ensure that the defence is on the same level as it was in the FIH Champions Trophy, and not let the chinks in the armour throw away a possible gold medal in each of these tournaments.
If he has a say in the team selection, he must select the best, which also includes a possible return of players like Ramandeep Singh and Harjeet Singh, who have worked wonders for the Indian team.
The 'young guns' policy since 2017 has not been so successful, with its disastrous effects visible at Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018, where the young players failed to impress.
To be truthful, it is only future who can tell whether the return of Sreejesh as the captain will prove beneficial.
But if we know Sreejesh, we are sure of one thing: India won't give in without a tough fight under his leadership.