Twice nominated for the FIH ‘Goalkeeper of the Year’, the 30-year-old is the oldest member of the Indian team taking part in the World Cup here. But that hasn’t slowed down the reflexes of the custodian, who now has 206 internationals under his belt.
“Goalkeeping is one department where experience comes with age. You cannot expect a 22-year-old to keep extraordinarily. Whether it is football or hockey, goalkeepers all over the world reach their prime between ages 28-35,” said India coach Harendra Singh.
“In the last 11 years Sreejesh has gained rich experience. I’m happy that he shares his role with the youngsters coming in.”
Though the youngsters have learnt from him, no ‘ keeper in the country can really match up to the calibre of Sreejesh, who made his debut at the 2006 South Asian Games in Colombo.
“My experience is almost 14-15 years so that you cannot match with any other goalkeeper. Youngsters with me are improving and they will catch up soon. When you are a goalkeeper you need to fight with yourself. Everyday you try to improve rather than compare with others,” said Sreejesh.
“That is what I’ve done the past few years. When you are at the top, you cannot compare yourself with youngsters, you can’t have a competition with them. The best part is when you start to fight with your previous performances then you always get motivation to do better.”
For the likes of reserves Krishan Pathak, Akash Chikte or Suraj Karkera, the bar has been set quite high by the man from Kerala, who refuses to cede his territory . Sreejesh remains a key cog who has played a significant role in India reaching world No.5 and bagging medals at FIH tournaments regularly.
“I always try to set the bar high because when youngsters look up to goalkeeping they have to realise it is a responsible position. The next one who is going to take up my duty will have a huge responsibility while wearing the India jersey to take it even further,” said the former India skipper.
A hot topic of debate during this World Cup is how the rate of penalty corner conversions has declined in the recent past. But that is also perhaps because the defence has become better with ‘keepers constantly trying to counter variations.
“You need to have a close look at what is happening around the world. Variations, strengths and weaknesses… you need to talk with your defence team for better communication which will help you defend well,” said Sreejesh.
“In a penalty corner you cannot cover the entire goalpost. Certain areas will be left free. But that is when experience matters… you can anticipate what they are going to do and how to tackle that. But the most important thing is to watch the ball and save it.” Having thrashed South Africa 5-0 and drawn 2-2 against Belgium, India next take on world No.11 Canada, who will be eager for their first win to qualify for the knockouts.
“We cannot take anyone lightly because last year at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals, we had a bad experience with Canada (India lost 2-3 to Canada). So, every team is important for us.”