Sreejesh to mentor young team at Sultan Azlan Shah

With plenty of youngsters present in the Indian squad that will compete in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, the team needs an experienced hand to lead the way. Captain P.R. Sreejesh is up to the task.

Sreejesh will not wear the captain’s armband as coach Roelant Oltmans announced Manpreet Singh will captain the side.   -  K. Murali Kumar

With plenty of youngsters present in the Indian squad that will compete in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, the team needs an experienced hand to lead the way. Captain P.R. Sreejesh is up to the task. “The game played at the junior level is totally different from what we find at the senior level. My challenge is to make sure that the juniors don’t feel any pressure. They should just stick to their game,” Sreejesh said, on the sidelines of the team’s training camp here on Friday.

Sreejesh stressed on the importance of efficient communication to get the message across. “If I shout at some senior guy like V.R. Raghunath on the field, he plays with more energy. But, I can’t do that with the juniors - except for a couple of them - as their mentality is totally different. I will need to be calm, quiet and intelligent. Gurinder Singh is an exception to this. He always tells me that he plays better when I shout at him,” he said.

India opens its campaign against Great Britain on April 29, in this six-team league-format tournament. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Malaysia are the other sides in the fray. “This tournament will help in building a strong base for us, ahead of the Hockey World League semifinal. We are aiming for a podium finish at Ipoh,” Sreejesh said.

Chief coach Roelant Oltmans pointed to Australia as the strongest team in the field. “Australia is the best, by far. We are second in terms of world ranking, while England and New Zealand are quite close to us. But then, all these teams except Japan and Malaysia are in a transition phase. This makes it difficult to predict anything,” Oltmans said.

The Dutchman also announced that Manpreet Singh will wear the captain’s arm band instead of Sreejesh. This is part of the management's plan to rotate the on-field captaincy duties to give different players the exposure.

Suraj Karkera, the second goalkeeper in the Indian hockey team, has been ruled out of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup due to an ankle injury. He has been replaced by Akash Chikte, Oltmans said.