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PR Sreejesh: India’s Last, and the Best, Line of Defence

India's goalkeeper Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran celebrates by sitting on top of the goal's crossbar after winning the men's bronze medal match of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games field hockey competition by defeating Germany 5-4, at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo, on August 5, 2021.
Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

India's goalkeeper Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran celebrates by sitting on top of the goal's crossbar after winning the men's bronze medal match of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games field hockey competition by defeating Germany 5-4, at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo, on August 5, 2021. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

PR Sreejesh, the history graduate from Sree Narayana College in Kollam has re-written one in his favourite subject, with his favourite sport.

The clock froze. History stood still. Fans held their breath. And then came the golden moment that gave India the bronze in the Olympics. A hockey medal that will travel 6000 kms and land up at the shores of India after 41 years.

PR Sreejesh, the history graduate from Sree Narayana College in Kollam has re-written one in his favourite subject, with his favourite sport.

India will never not forget that brilliant save from Sreejesh with just 6.28 seconds left on the timer. It won’t be an overstatement to say we are on the podium because of an acrobatic, super agile custodian.

TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS – INDIA vs GREAT BRITAIN HOCKEY MATCH FULL COVERAGE | INDIA IN FOCUS | SCHEDULE RESULTS |  MEDALS TALLY |  PHOTOS | OFF THE FIELD | EBOOK

From almost quitting the game to standing on the podium Sreejesh has had a fantastic journey to stardom. Playing his third Olympics, it was now or never for the man from Kerala.

“Olympics is not how it looks from the outside. It is like a pressure cooker, you have pressure from all areas. It’s important you stay in your own zone. The ones who win a medal there are the ones who perform better under pressure,” he said before leaving for Tokyo.

For a man with 236 international appearances, it’s hard to generate motivation. No trophy cabinet is complete without an Olympic medal. Today Sreejesh would be planning where to place the most coveted of all laurels he has received in life.

An injury in 2017 kept Sreejesh out of the team for a while. It was a phase where he started contemplating his future with the sport. But after talking with fellow goalkeepers like Jaap Stockmann (Netherlands), Juan Manuel Vivaldi (Argentina) and Kumar Subramaniam (Malaysia) he decided to give the sport some more time.

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“I used to tell them this is what I feel. They always shared their experiences. They told me goalkeepers tend to get better with age as experience counts for a lot. It is one area where you need it because you need to be calm. They told me that that phase (wanting to quit) will go. So whenever I have ups and downs, I look up to them. The only thing they said is ‘Sree, when you have more experience, you need to work wisely, you can’t work like a youngster. You need to choose the way you train’. That’s what I am doing. When you have more energy, you do things in a different way. When you have more experience, you do things in a different way,” he had said.

This is not the first tournament where Sreejesh has saved India time and again under the bar, and at 33 he wouldn’t know whether it will be his last. With Paris now three years away, the Indian custodian says he cannot talk about what happens in future.

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“That’s another three years. Nobody knows what is going to happen. So this is the last opportunity to win a medal.” And he did it in style.

Sreejesh isn’t a goalkeeper who just saves goals on the field. He is the enabler of many moves that take place in the midfield as well. Saving a goal is his priority, but communicating with defenders like Birendra Lakra, Rupinder Pal Singh, Amit Rohidas, he believes, is his duty.

He’s a talkative goalkeeper, also shouting and encouraging the last line of defence. Guiding them, advising them at the top of his voice. Considering that a road in Kerala is named after him, he surely knows how to guide people on the right path.

Harendra Singh, the former India coach, currently coaching the United States team, received a call yesterday after the match. It was Sreejesh. Harendra had selected Sreejesh for a Junior Asia Cup tour in 2004. Many say the selection committee wasn’t too pleased with his choice. But Harendra stuck to decision and retained Sreejesh in the team.

“He called me and said ‘I wish you were here’. It’s your medal and Thank you, sir’. This is a big, big honour for me,” Harendra told News18.com.

Harendra added that when Sreejesh walked into the camp at Gachchibowli Stadium in Hyderabad, he came across a shy person who would let his performance do the talking. “Very unlike what he is today,” Harendra said from the US.

Harendra, however, said that Sreejesh’s game may have changed in many aspects, but his hand and feet coordination remains the same.

No doubt Sreejesh is the pillar of the team, but you cannot ignore the defence that works so closely and tirelessly with him. Rohidas, Lakra, Rupinder, Harmanpreet Singh have complimented Sreejesh efforts in the goal.

This is the Olympics and there are no free lunches here. Every game that India played the defence has had to soak in a lot of pressure. They have come out winners on most occasions, except for that one match – the 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Australia.

In fact, Rupinder and Harmanpreet also doubled up as goal-scorers in the tournament. The opposition hardly had answers to their formidable drag flicks, delivered especially under pressure. The two also fed the long ball to the forward line with their slap shots.

While Rupinder and Harmanpreet would move up the pitch to assist the midfield and striker the whole burden of defence fell on Rohidas and Lakra.

As for Sreejesh the Chief Sports Organiser with Kerala government’s education department, he sure has given big lessons to over aspiring hockey youngsters in the country.

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first published:August 06, 2021, 12:26 IST