Indian hockey is suddenly in the forefront. Ironically it's the man at the back who's been holding the key to this success.
India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. Pic/Getty Images
India goalkeeper Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh, or simply Sree as his teammates call him, has been solid under the bar for Sardar Singh's Men in Blue, both at the Asian Games in Incheon last month, where he saved two attempts in the final shootout from Pakistan to help India clinch gold after 16 years, and then in the backyard of world champions Australia recently, where the hockey heroes registered a historic 3-1 series victory.
'Oz were desperate to win'
Trailing 1-3 in the last match, the mighty Kookaburras threw the kitchen sink at the Indians in the dying minutes, making numerous forays into the striking circle, only to be thwarted by the 26-year-old Indian custodian. "The Australians take a lot of pride in their hockey and to beat them in their own den is a great achievement.
In the last game, they were desperate for a win to at least level the series, but thankfully I managed to keep them at bay," Sreejesh told mid-day moments after boarding his evening flight back home to Kochi from Delhi, where the team arrived from Australia yesterday morning.
Vice captain Sreejesh admitted that the Australians were not at full strength, but justified it saying that India were inexperienced too. "The Champions Trophy (in Bhubaneswar from December 6-14) is close at hand so the Australians could not afford to experiment too much. We took along 21 members to Australia and tried every one of them.
India hockey players (L to R) Harbir Singh Sandhu, Mandeep Singh, Rupinderpal Singh, Satbir Singh, PR Sreejesh and Sardar Singh at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi yesterday. Pic/PTI
We even left out two players from our Asian Games gold-winning team — Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Chinglensana Singh. We played around 14 senior players from our 2014 World Cup team, while they played 10 seniors from their World Cup team. We took seven members from the Junior India team, while their side had around eight players from their Junior side so it was an even battle," explained Sreejesh.
The Indian Overseas Bank manager from Kochi said that consistency is the key for Team India. "We did not travel to Australia with the intention of registering a big win against them. This Indian team has been together for about a year now, so our idea was to carry on the consistency and improvement from the Incheon Asiad campaign and learn a thing or two from the Australians at the same time. And to be honest, we have learnt a lot," he signed off even as the flight was all set to take off.
Ind vs Aus series
Match 1, Nov 4: India 0 lost to Australia 4 (Jeremy Hayward 15th & 34th minutes, Jacob Whetton 30th min, Glenn Simpson 39th min)
Match 2, Nov 5: India 2 (Ramandeep Singh 33rd minute, SV Sunil 34th min) beat Australia 1 (Matt Gohdes 30th min)
Match 3, Nov 8: India 1 (SV Sunil 34th min) beat Australia 0
Match 4, Nov 9: India 3 (Akashdeep Singh 13th & 50th mins, SK Uthappa 53rd min) beat Australia 1 (Thomas Craig 36th min)