Triple Olympian Mukesh backs Sreejesh to lead charge in Tokyo

N. Mukesh, who holds the Games record of scoring the fastest goal in hockey, chose Sreejesh as the star to watch out for his experience, class and confidence.

India goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh in action.   -  Getty Images

India needs to play fearless hockey even while displaying the typical Asian skills, especially outside the 25-yard circle to be in with a chance to return with a medal in the next month’s Tokyo Olympics, said triple Olympian N. Mukesh Kumar, who holds the Games record of scoring the fastest goal – in 32 seconds against Australia – in the Sydney edition in 2000.

“India is in a  tough group in Tokyo. And, the major objective is to avoid early setbacks in the Olympics campaign or else they would have a demoralising effect,” he said in a chat with Sportstar on Monday.

Mukesh chose goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh as the star to watch out for because of his experience, class and confidence. “Moreover, he is such an inspirational figure in the team,” he added.

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“It is obvious that most of the contenders are short of match-practice. And whatever fitness levels are maintained especially by the Indians are based only on ‘home drills’. So, it will be interesting to see how the players come up with the required match endurance and fitness levels,” he said.

“I feel with the pandemic throwing out of gear all the preparations, which otherwise generally include playing in three-nation events or even Test matches, the onus will be on the seniors to raise the bar,” said Mukesh, who featured in the 1992, 1998 and 2000 Games.

“Olympics is a different proposition altogether in terms of pressure of expectations,” he said.

“Well, the coaches too have a demanding task of relying a lot on the video analysis and their success in translating all those strategies into on-field execution will play a big role in any team’s chances,” he said.

Mukesh hoped that the tradition of Olympics throwing up expected heroes will continue. “Fortunately, there is drastic improvement in short-corner conversion. But again, like in any major event, team effort is the key and we
should prefer the traditional wrong-foot play outside the circle as this is where the foreigners struggle,” he said.

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“From what I have noticed with the current Indian team, the emphasis seems to be to send players with the specific direction of going flat out in 10 minutes in any position, similar to the total hockey concept. Well, if we are good at this and show mastery in skills too, India should be a formidable force to reckon with,” Mukesh said.

“Definitely, hockey is more of a power-game now but it doesn’t mean skills can be ignored. To be successful at any level, the basics have to be right,” he said.

N. Mukesh Kumar   -  FILE PHOTO/V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM


 

Reflecting on his own journey in the Olympics,  Mukesh, who is also the Secretary of Telangana Hockey now, said that his maiden one in Barcelona was a disaster – both personally and for the team.

“Honestly, I was overawed by the atmosphere. I felt like a kid when I saw all those famous names from different disciplines,” he said referring to the way he even fumbled with the push-ins in 1992
Games.

“But, I always felt that the Sydney edition was the best chance for India to win a medal after winning gold in 1980 Moscow Games. We had the team to do that. Somehow, it was a disappointment again though personally I can look back with a sense of pride at scoring that goal against Australia in 34th second which is still an Olympics record for
the fastest goal,” he explained.

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