Goalkeeper's Chennai club mates believe his expertise in tie-breakers helped India beat Pakistan via shoot-out in the Asian Champions Trophy final in China on Sunday; Sreejesh effected two saves in the team's 4-2 victory
Even as hockey lovers across the country would have been on pins as the India vs Pakistan Asian Champions Trophy final in Ordos, China on Sunday went into the shoot-out, members of the Indian Overseas Bank hockey team in Chennai were confident of an India victory. That's because they knew their IOB 'keeper -- PR Sreejesh -- who was manning the goalpost for India, is a tie-breaker specialist.
Big stage: India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh tackles Pakistan's Shafqat
Rasool during the Asian Champions Trophy final in China on Sunday.
Two crucial saves
Sreejesh effected two crucial saves in the shoot-out -- a new format that requires a player to run in from the 25-yard-line and beat the goalkeeper within eight seconds. Sreejesh thwarted Pakistan's Haseem Abdul Khan and Shafqat Rasool in the shoot-out to give India a 4-2 win. "The match was not shown on TV but some of my friends watched it over the internet and I was constantly being updated. As soon as the match ended goalless at full time, I knew we would win because Sreejesh is simply too good in tie-breakers. Though the shoot-out is a relatively new introduction, I knew that since Sreejesh enjoys one-on-one situations, it will be advantage India," IOB center-forward Adam Sinclair told MiD DAY from Chennai yesterday.
Sinclair has, in fact, captained Sreejesh on quite a few occasions in different teams and so knows the Kerala boy from close quarters. "Sree made a name for himself for the first time while playing under the bar for Chennai Veerans in the second tier of the 2005 Premier Hockey League. I was captain of the team and he was one of my main players. He brought about some daring saves. He totally thrives in such pressure situations.
Even in IOB he has helped us win matches almost single-handedly in the tie-breaker," added Sinclair.
Coincidentally, Sreejesh first shone on the international stage against Pakistan in the FIH World Cup in New Delhi last year, when he was a surprise inclusion ahead of the seasoned Adrian D'Souza. India won that encounter 4-1. This time round too, the custodian made it to the side at D'Souza's cost, and yet again he has done well against arch-rivals Pakistan.
Enjoys a challenge
IOB team manager Mohammad Arif said Sreejesh has always enjoyed a good challenge. "He likes to take on tough tasks. In fact, he enjoys it. I remember in the final of an All-India tournament in Kovilpatti (in Tamil Nadu) in May this year, we fought back from two goals down against MEG Bangalore to force the game into the tie-breaker.
"Sree was calm even as all of us were tense. And right enough he saw us through in the tie-breaker," said Arif.
Arif recalled how Sreejesh was not good in tie-breakers initially. "I remember when he joined the bank in 2006, he was not at all good in tie-breakers. But the good thing is that he knew his flaws and was keen to rectify it. He would practice hard and eventually improved in it. Today, he's one of India's best goalkeepers in one-on-one situations," said Arif adding that though Sreejesh holds a senior designation -- assistant manager at the bank's head office in Annasalai -- he's humble nevertheless.
Speaking of the new shoot-out format, Arif said that though Sreejesh had not practised it before, he used to do something similar in training, and that would have kept him in good stead in the final. "Sreejesh is a very flamboyant character. He likes to try out different things and is very hardworking too. Though we never practised the new shoot-out during training at IOB, Sree enjoyed taking on strikers one-on-one. So, we would have our forwards running in one after another hammering balls into Sree and he would admirably save each one. He would take over 100 hits on his body and would never tire," added Arif.
Victory has come after a long time. Let's hope that this is the beginning of a bright future for Indian hockey
- Olympian Balbir Singh
It's not a major title but still a confidence-boosting win. Both teams were equal in terms of performance
- Olympian Dhanraj Pillay
It's an outstanding victory considering this is a very young Indian team. Coach Nobbs seems to have got it spot-on
- olympian MM Somaya