For India to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the simplest of equations is to defend its Asian Games gold in Jakarta. If not, it will have to take the circuitous route through the Hockey Series, a new two-tier competition introduced by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) for nations which are not part of the Hockey Pro League.
Indian captain P.R. Sreejesh, however, remains unfazed. The gold medal or near bust situation doesn't seem to bother him. “Why can't we think we are the highest-ranked team in Asia [fifth in the world] and good enough to win? Why think about other routes to qualify. That is added pressure,” he said here on Friday.
“We have an easy option now. We need to get the ticket to the Olympics. We are focussed on this. The preparations have been good. We are at the last stage of polishing our skills, like penalty corners, goal scoring, defensive structures and we have had enough practise matches.”
The 3-0 victory over New Zealand in the recent Test series has done the team a world of good Sreejesh felt. “Regaining the winning habit was the biggest positive. Commonwealth Games was a bit disappointing though we learnt a lot. At the Champions Trophy we performed well. We lost two matches but drew against a lot of good teams.”
“We have all along played well but needed to learn to win and keep the rhythm. After the Korea and New Zealand Tests, the rhythm is there and that's important.”
There is also an increased buzz around the team with the return of drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh and striker Akashdeep Singh. Along with the rejuvenated Sardar Singh, they are expected to have considerable impact.
“When you look at the Asian Games, it is a tournament with pressure off the field and not on the field,” Sreejesh noted. “These experienced players know how to handle the pressure. These guys know how to hold the team, control things and also carry the youngsters with them. In this squad there is enough experience. Only a couple like Dilpreet [Singh] and Vivek [Sagar Prasad] are coming in with 20 or 25 matches.”
On a personal note, for Sreejesh this will be the biggest competition since his comeback in February following an eight-month injury layoff. “The name [of the tournament] is bigger but to me every hockey match I play for my country is crucial,” said the 30-year-old. “The intensity is the same. The names of the tournaments are important for the youngsters who have just come in. For us [seniors] it's all about winning the next match.”
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