Thursday, June 26, 2014

Exclusive Interview: Goalkeepers don’t always get their due, says Indian shot stopper PR Sreejesh

Every tournament sees a player or set of players grab the eyeballs for all the ‘right’ reasons, and for India at the 2014 Rabobank World Cup in Hague, there was one guy, who panned out to be a standout performer by a long, long way.
Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh left nobody in doubt that he was India’s ‘find’ of the World Cup – coming up with a plethora of saves to ensure India stayed competitive. Save for the first half of India’s 3-2 win over Malaysia and 3-0 win over Korea, Sreejesh was a ‘busy’ man in the Indian cage. “Look, goalkeepers do not always get their due for their performances be it India or for that matter any country. So I’m little surprised at all the praise over my performance,” Sreejesh says in an exclusive interview.
The Kerala lad attributes his robust goalkeeping skills in the World Cup to his stint he had under Dutch goalkeeping coach Martijn Drijver (who had earlier coached star shot stopper Guus Vogels) during the country’s exposure tour of the Netherlands a month ahead of the big-ticket event. “I think the stint with Guus Vogels really helped. He stressed on two things ‘watch the ball’ and ‘stop’ – he advised me not to commit myself and keep things simple – his inputs worked for me,” he reveals.
The 29-year-old Indian goalie feels the Indian team shaped up well at the World Cup, but felt short on the ‘experience’ quotient. “If you look at most teams you will find that there were much more experienced than we were. No doubt, we have a talented side, but in big games experience do matter and we fell short in this area,” he quips.
Sreejesh touched a pertinent point when he accentuated the need to have ‘stability’ in the side. “I can assure you that if we have this current bunch of players till the 2016 Rio Olympics, we will stand a bright chance of making a podium finish. Most of our youngsters will get more mature and gain enough international experience by then, which will help us in a big way,” the soft-spoken lad observes.
The conversation veers towards the development of ‘desi’ coaches and Sreejesh believes there is a massive need to put a process in place, which ensures churning out quality coaches. “We lack good Indian coaches. The likes of Harendra Singh, CR Kumar and Baljit Singh Saini are really good coaches  - I think they should conduct clinics in every state through a planned programme wherein at least four to five in every state can attend this coaching clinics and take their skills to the next level. For Indian hockey to be on the upswing, it’s really important to upgrade our coaches or at least produce quality home-grown coaches,” he remarks.
It may be recalled that Sreejesh was the hero in the inaugural 2011 Asian Champions Trophy, where he effected two brilliant saves in the penalty shootout of the final game against Pakistan, which India won 4-2. He cherished those moments even today. “Any win against Pakistan is hugely satisfying. My performance in that final match helped to establish myself in the national side. It’s like an once-in-a-lifetime thing for me,” he recalls.
He is upbeat about India’s chances at the upcoming Commonwealth Games. “We are improving with each game and I’m confident that we will fare well in Glasgow,” he fires a parting shot.
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