A race for perfection

As India ended its World Cup campaign with a ninth-place finish, followers of the game were rooting for a special bravery award for goalkeeper Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh. Such was his impact on the games India played that even Hockey India Secretary General Narinder Batra officially admitted that Sreejesh made all the difference as the country finished ninth among 12 teams.

The 26-year-old from Kerala stood firm in the face of waves of attack and was the standout performer for India.

Coming into prominence at the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy in 2011, where he saved two penalty strokes in the final, Sreejesh has made the country’s No. 1 goalkeeper slot his own. That Sreejesh spends more time than even other field players in training is a reflection of his stubborn desire to be the best.

“My strength and my weakness is the same: my stubbornness to excel once I have made a choice,” says Sreejesh.

“When I played in the 2010 World Cup, Adrian (D’Souza) was the senior goalkeeper. I learnt a lot from him, especially on how to stay calm under pressure. This time, I was among the senior players and it adds to the responsibilities. But I tried to do my best,” Sreejesh says.

The father-to-be admits it hurt every time the team lost due to errors by other players. India conceded the winning goal in the first two games — against Belgium and England — in the final 20 seconds. Both times, Sreejesh managed to stop the first shot but was let down by the lack of backup from the rest.

“After saving goal after goal relentlessly for 70 minutes, it does feel bad when a last-minute goal, due to defensive errors by other players, lead to the team losing a crucial game.

“But I can also understand the pressure. Most of these players are really young. It was the first World Cup for many of them and a major world level tournament for most. There is immense pressure, a World Cup is a different ball game altogether. Even the best players get nervous on that stage and despite all the training, lack of experience was a big factor,” Sreejesh says.

Not too many people know that the Indian team utilised the services of Martin Drijver during the recent World Cup. Sreejesh says Drijver, who runs a goalkeeping academy in the Netherlands, was instrumental in helping him reduce some common errors. “He worked with us only for a brief time but I learnt a lot from him. Most importantly, he told me to not bother about balls getting in. He told me, ‘Sreejesh, only try to stop the stoppable balls. Don’t go for the unstoppable ones or fancy dives’. That one sentence made a lot of difference to my thought process. It also made me realise how much more I have to learn,” Sreejesh says.

Uthra Ganesan