Star India men's hockey team goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has achieved almost everything in his 17-year-long illustrious career, except for a World Cup medal and he wants to fulfil his "dream" this time in the ongoing showpiece at home. (More Hockey News)
The 34-year-old Sreejesh had played a major role in India's historic bronze win in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and the team is hoping to finish on the podium in the ongoing World Cup in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela after a hiatus 48 years.
India had won their maiden World Cup medal, a gold, in the 1975 edition in Kuala Lumpur.
"That (World Cup medal) is the only medal, which is missing in my cabinet. The Indian team is working hard to finish on the podium and that is my dream," Sreejesh told PTI.
"If we do that, I can also say that I have a medal from the Olympics as well as from the World Cup."
Sreejesh, who has played 226 senior international matches since making his debut in 2006, has won medals in all prestigious tournaments, except for World Cup.
He was part of the gold and bronze winning Asian Games teams in 2014 and 2018, Commonwealth Games silver winning teams in 2014 and 2022, Champions Trophy silver clinching teams in 2016 and 2018. He has won gold in Asian Champions Trophy in 2011, 2016 and 2018. He is also a three-time Olympian and is currently playing in his fourth World Cup.
Some of the members of the Tokyo Olympics bronze-winning team like Birendra Lakra and Rupinder Pal Singh have retired since then.
Talking about them, Sreejesh said, "Every Olympic cycle, coaches try to change a lot of players because they (coaches) plan for the next four years. That is going to be more important, so that is why there has been a lot of changes in our team as well.
"A lot of youngsters have replaced senior players. So, they will get a lot of experience and be ready to give their best for the country at the end of this (Olympic) cycle," said the shot stopper from Kerala.
Sreejesh agreed with current Indian team goalkeeping coach Dennis van de Pol, who had said that young Krishan Pathak has matured enough and is ready to replace the veteran custodian when he decides to call time on his glorious career.
"Pathak has been with the national team since 2016 when he played the Junior World Cup and he joined the senior team in 2017. He was with me for the 2018 World Cup and 2018 Asian Games. He has got enough experience to play for the team now.
"Definitely, when you are the senior-most, you need to look back and think about who can replace you and who can play better for the country because being in the Indian hockey team is not a permanent job for anybody," he said.
"Some day you need to step out and someone will take your place and I think with experience and the way he is playing he (Pathak) is ready to perform for the country."
Sreejesh felt happy that the world body, FIH, is concerned about the safety of players and was thinking of giving more reaction time to penalty corner defenders but doesn't not see any reason to change rules in this regard.
The FIH is doing a study on tweaking penalty corner hit rules to provide more safety to defending players as the high speed ball travels in a crowded area.
Asked about this, Sreejesh said, "In any sport, safety of players comes first. I am happy that the FIH is concerned about the safety of the players. But the thing is that we should not change anything in penalty corners because the PC is one of the beautiful things in hockey and it gives excitement to the game.
"Definitely, the way out could be better quality of equipment and better use of them can prevent injuries."
The current Indian team has done very well in defending penalty corners as it has not conceded a goal from set pieces in the two matches it has played so far in this World Cup.
But Sreejesh refused to compare players of different generations and said the current lot is the best in this aspect of the game.
"Every generation has its best PC defenders and you saw our current players doing really well in defending PCs. So, when the system or the technology improves, that helps in how to defend penalty corners. With experience also, we can defend penalty corners," he said.
"In the match against England, Manpreet Singh was the first rusher and he is no longer a youngster. Amit Rohidas is also a very good first rusher. But you cannot compare players of different generations, be it PC takers or PC defenders."
He said in hockey, just as scoring from penalty corners is important, defending set pieces is also equally crucial.
"Every team spends a lot of time on how to defend penalty corners. The result is that we are doing very well in PC defence.
"Penalty corner takers are also very good, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas. So it is an inspiration for the PC defenders to also do well. Coach Graham Reid is working hard on PC defending and technically when we are watching opponent teams, we know who is their best drag-flicker and we try to send out our best defenders," Sreejesh concluded.