CWG 2022: 'I can relate my career to Avial' - Indian hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh
India is looking ahead to another good outing in hockey during the Commonwealth Games 2022. PR Sreejesh has said he has been delighted with his career.
Veteran Indian hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh feels his chequered international career resembles Malayali staple 'Avial', a mixed curry of 13 vegetables. At 34, he is in the twilight zone, and all that is left for him is to tick a couple of boxes in a career filled with numerous ups and downs. His ultimate dream is a second Olympic medal wrapped around his neck with the monumental Eiffel Tower looming over him. Yet, for now, he wants to be that safe 'check-post' in his third and last Commonwealth Games (CWG).
"Life was always not the same. It was always full of ups and downs. I had some perfect matches as well as some awful outings. I had a bad start to my career, then gradually, I have risen the ranks to become India's No.1 keeper," Sreejesh told PTI in an interaction.
"From witnessing the low of 2012 London Olympics to winning bronze in Tokyo, in between, I captained the national team. Then, in 2018, my career was almost over due to an ACL [Anterior Cruciate Ligament] injury. In Kerala, we have a famous dish called 'Avial'. It's a 13-vegetable curry. I can relate my career to Avial," added Sreejesh.
At the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Sreejesh starred as India's gold medal winner when he saved a couple of attempts in a shoot-out against arch-rival Pakistan in the final. At the 2014 and 2018 Champions Trophy, he was adjudged "Goalkeeper of the Tournament". At this stage of his career, Sreejesh has opted for short targets.
"As a youngster, I always used to plan for four years. Now, I always prefer short-term goals. My priority is CWG, and my next step is World Cup. When you are keeping short targets, that always helps you to focus more on your performance, fitness and mental strength," Sreejesh reckoned.
So, Sreejesh is planning to carry on till the 2024 Paris Olympics. "Looking forward, Paris is feasible. I can see the Eiffel Tower, but that road will not be easy. I believe these small steps will help me reach there. Another Commonwealth Games is tricky because, in another four years, I don't think I will be able to sustain [my fitness], but who knows there you can see me as a coach," considered Sreejesh.
Sreejesh believes goalkeepers are like vintage wine, and they get better with age, reflecting on his illustrious career, where he started warming the bench and became one of the best in the world. He said the early setbacks in his career taught him lessons to use disappointments as building blocks for success.
"When I started my career, I used to concede a lot of goals. The best part of being a goalkeeper is that when you are the second choice, you gain a lot of experience by sitting outside and watching. I learned the game by watching the likes of Devesh Chauhan, Adrian D'Souza, and Bharat Chettri," Sreejesh continued.
"Over time, I had seniors who corrected me and covered for me. If I had been drafted straightaway in the main team, I would have finished by now because the pressure is too high at the international level, and youngsters might find it difficult to handle at the onset," implied Sreejesh.
"That's why we say goalkeepers get better as they age. Goalkeepers are like vintage wine because, with age, their maturity level goes high, their pressure-handling gets better, and they take decisions wisely," Sreejesh considered. Talking about the upcoming CWG, Sreejesh believes that India has the potential to finish on the podium, but confounding the mighty Australians would be vital in deciding the medal colour.
"The team is capable of reaching the final for sure. The way we perform, we can come up with a better result than in 2014. But, it's about how you handle that particular day when you are playing the semifinal and final. This team is capable of finishing on the podium," opined Sreejesh.
"Australia is one of the best teams in the world. We saw their performance in the Tokyo Olympics as well. So, it will not be easy to beat them, but with how our team is performing now, we are confident of giving them a tough competition. We are not going to make it easy for any team," Sreejesh concluded.
(With inputs from PTI)