‘A special one for me'

S. MAHINSHA

Sreejesh's sangfroid helped India end its title drought at the continental level. And in a matter of a few days, life turned out to be completely different for the Indian goalkeeper who became an instant hero at home. By M. R. Praveen Chandran.

P.R. Sreejesh turned out to be the unlikely hero for India in the Asian Champions Trophy final against Pakistan in Ordos, China, recently.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper's sangfroid helped the country end its title drought at the continental level that spanned almost a decade. In a matter of a few days, life turned out to be completely different for Sreejesh who became an instant hero at home, and it was not something that he had imagined when he boarded the flight to China.

“I didn't realise the enormity of the achievement until I landed in Delhi. The rapturous welcome and all the media attention is not something that I am used to on a regular basis,” the goalkeeper said.

“To be honest it was just another game for me. The credit should go to the whole team. We jelled as a unit and it is true I kept my composure in the shoot-out (in the final). My mind was totally blank. I took each stroke at a time and concentrated hard. I was able to save two strokes and it was very satisfying,” he said.

It was a tremendous comeback for the goalkeeper who was sidelined for major part of last year due to back injury. “I picked up the injury while stretching at the camp and it was disappointing to miss the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Azlan Shah tournament. So the gold in the Asian Champions Trophy is indeed special to me,” he said.

The athlete-turned-goalkeeper, Sreejesh, said he always felt comfortable under the bar during penalty corner drills. “Maybe it had a lot to do with sheer number of hits I took on my body while keeping the goal for Kerala in junior competitions.”

It was this courage that brought him into national reckoning and into the national camp. “I attended about 20 national camps and the frustration was slowly seeping in, and I even thought of quitting. But the turning point came when I got selected for the Junior World Cup in Rotterdam,” the player reminisced.

A secure job with the IOB gave him further reason to pursue the game. The goalkeeper admitted that he learnt a lot from his senior Adrian D'Souza and was of the view that the rotation policy of Barsa and Nobbs was beneficial to all the goalkeepers.

After tasting his first international success, Sreejesh is determined to work harder to achieve his goal of becoming the number one goalkeeper in the world and to help India win an Olympic medal.