Sreejesh: 'We had hope and belief that the trophy was ours'

Admitting that the tournament was special for him though he missed out on the final because of injury, Sreejesh added that the Asian Champions Trophy triumph was a reiteration of India's gradual growth from being surprise winners five years back to being the title favourite.

Affan Yousuf India v Pakistan, final , Asian Champions Trophy, India win

India's Affan Yousuf was impressive in the recently concluded Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament.   -  PTI

For once, it was the absence of acrimony that marked an India-Pakistan hockey game even as India reclaimed the Asian Champions Trophy hockey with a hard-fought 3-2 win against the two-time defending champion in the final to level it 2-2 in terms of number of titles held by either side.

READ: >Sreejesh unsure of participation in Australia tour

India won the inaugural edition five years back and since then, a lot has changed in this side. Goalkeeper and captain PR Sreejesh missed out on the final with an ankle and hamstring injury and admitted to being disappointed. The 2011 final, against the same opponent, was the one where he came into the spotlight for the first time by saving two penalties.

“It definitely was a little disappointing to not play the final but I was confident of the team and our win. I knew we had it in us to take the title. I was a bit nervous because I have more experience of being inside the field at such times than on the bench! We missed a few chances but we had the hope and belief that the trophy was ours,” Sreejesh said from Kuantan.

Admitting that the tournament was special for him, Sreejesh added that it was a reiteration of India's gradual growth that from surprise winners five years back, it was considered favourite this time. “We also proved that the Asian Games win was not a fluke,” he said. He is, however, likely to miss out on the upcoming four-nation event and the subsequent Test series in Australia, concentrating instead on rehabilitation and strengthening in the next couple of months.

If Sreejesh became Indian hockey's new hero after 2011, this edition did the same for the likes of Affan Yousuf and Nikkin Thimmaiah, both scoring goals in the final, and Akash Chikte, who manned the post instead of Sreejesh in three games including the title clash and impressed. “I was lucky to get the goal but the victory was not all luck, we had planned and prepared for it and knew we could do it,” Thimmaiah said.

Coach Roelant Oltmans, though, has set his sights higher. The Dutchman has always insisted that the process is more important to achieve desired results.

Going into the tournament with three-four of the core players missing and then losing two more for the title clash in Malaysia was the perfect occasion for him to test the bench and he would have been pleased with the outcome. That he did not risk Sreejesh despite the high stakes both on and off the field against Pakistan was noteworthy.

“The pre-match meeting before the final was actually much shorter than normal. The coach spoke little but only reminded us repeatedly that it was time to put strategies over emotions. When we play with with emotions, we make mistakes. The coach only said, 'pick up any data, any video, any statistics from the last few years and you will see that we are better in everything. We are a better team, we are a more skilled team, we are the higher-ranked team. We are better, all you have to do is keep control of the game and avoid your emotions.' It helped,” Sreejesh added.

The result was one of the cleanest India-Pakistan games ever with few cautions and no violence.

Five years ago, Sardar Singh had inexplicably and abruptly walked out of the preparatory camp for the tournament, along with Sandeep Singh, inviting censure and disciplinary action. As the seniormost player in the side now, he was the fulcrum of India's attacks, proving his class and setting up goals for the forwards from either flank.

Mellowed with age and enriched by experience, the midfielder was the architect of some of the most crucial goals for India, including the winner against Pakistan and the equaliser against Korea in the semifinals.