The solitary keeper

Despite absence of a goalkeeping coach,Sreejesh has been in stellar form for India

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Mumbai | Published: March 14, 2013 12:32:19 am

With a slight chuckle,PR Sreejesh admits he became a goalkeeper just so that he could be the ‘showstopper’ when his team won. Sreejesh likes to be in the thick of things,be it on the field or off it. The first time he entered a hockey field,he didn’t want to play in a position that demanded a lot of running but still wanted to be in a place where he would be the centre of attention.

“Goalkeeping is one area in hockey where you’re always accounted for individually. Forwards have to depend on the passes from midfielders,even drag-flickers have to depend on the pusher and stopper. My coach from the junior days said goalkeeping is one area where you can put up a ‘one man show.’ I didn’t hesitate,” Sreejesh says.

Showstopper indeed. After spending years under the shadows of players like Adrian D’Souza and Bharat Chhetri,Sreejesh has finally come of age. He put up his desired ‘one man show’ performance not once,but three times in a row in the ongoing Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia,that too against three hockey powerhouses. Sreejesh has been manning the goal of what is a very young and highly inexperienced Indian team with some flair. Had it not been for his acrobatic displays under the bar,India could have easily lost each match by a huge margin.

Mention this to him and he quips: “I have made some good saves so everyone’s praising me The moment I allow a couple of goals,people will be quick to criticise. But that’s a part and parcel of the game. I try not to focus on these things much.”

Just a month ago,Sreejesh sat in his hotel room in New Delhi,disillusioned and disheartened upon reading skipper Sardar Singh’s comments on the poor form of goalkeepers. The inaugural Hockey India League (HIL) was nothing short of a disaster for Sreejesh and India discard PT Rao. Ahead of the World League,Sardar was frank enough to admit that goalkeeping was an area that concerned him the most. Sreejesh,who had earned praise from a certain section of the fraternity for a few good performances in the HIL,felt demotivated.

“HIL was tough for him. His team (Mumbai) did not have a great tournament and Sreejesh was low on confidence,” former goalkeeping coach AB Subbaiah says. “I told him to watch the videos of the matches where he has performed well and focus on the positives. There wasn’t much wrong with his technique. It was important to restore his confidence.”

Momentary relief

At a time when India’s goalkeeping cupboard is all but empty,Sreejesh’s performance comes as a relief,albeit momentary. Touring without an experienced second goalkeeper or a full-time goalkeeping coach means Sreejesh has to depend on video analysis to improve his game.

“It’s a constant process of self learning. Right now,I don’t have an experienced goalkeeping partner with whom I can sit and discuss my game. Nor do we have a goalkeeping coach. So after the matches,I look at my video with the support staff and spot where things went wrong,” he says. “We’ve come here not with the target of winning the tournament. It’s about helping the juniors gain experience. And we’ve been quite successful so far at that.”

Tough task for India

With two rounds remaining,India,who started with back to back defeats have their backs to the wall and wins in both remaining rounds may still not be enough to make the final.

* If both Australia and Malaysia (on seven points each) are to win their fourth round matches on Thursday,the sides will make the semis making all other results irrelevant.

* If one of the Australia or Malaysia do not manage the win,India’s (three points) fate will be in its own hands. They will first have to beat New Zealand on Thursday and then Malaysia on Saturday to get themselves to a maximum of nine points. If the wins are by a healthy margin,their goal difference could take them through to the final.

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