Goalie extraordinaire

Laudable triumph Sreejesh (left); Indian hockey players holds the winner trophy (Sreejesh is holding the flag) of 6th Mens Junior Asia Cup following their victory against South Korea in Hyderabad

Laudable triumph Sreejesh (left); Indian hockey players holds the winner trophy (Sreejesh is holding the flag) of 6th Mens Junior Asia Cup following their victory against South Korea in Hyderabad  

Sreejesh, Asia’s best junior goalkeeper, is virtually unknown at home

The car veers to the left and stops beside a small bakery at the quiet village of Erumely, near Kizhakkambalam, around 25 kilometres from Kochi. Curious eyes peer at you and turn even more bewildered when you ask them to direct you to Indian junior hockey goalkeeper, Sreejesh P. Ravindran’s home. It becomes quite obvious that they have not heard of Asia’s best goalkeeper, little about hockey, or of their native’s achievements in the national sport.

In the recent Junior Asia Cup held in Hyderabad, which India won, Sreejesh was nominated as the best goalkeeper. It was a crowning moment in this hard-working goalie’s career, one punctuated by struggles.

Unlike many, Sreejesh did not begin as a hockey player. While at school, that is, till he joined the G. V. Raja Sports School, he was a shot-putter. Even here he started off with athletics training before he made the switch to hockey. That happened when he was halfway into Class VIII. Sreejesh is now doing his graduation in History.

“Though I have registered with the Kerala University, I have not attended a single class so far,” says Sreejesh with a sheepish grin.

Picked up by hockey coaches Jayakumar and Ramesh Kolappa at the sports school, Sreejesh soon got hooked to the beauty of hockey. He went on to represent Kerala schools and also played in the Nehru Cup tournament.

Slog to the top

From then it was a real slog to the top. Sreejesh made his international debut with the junior Indian team in the Test series against Australia at Perth. He made a tremendous impact in the closely fought series. He also got to play in the tours to Pakistan and Malaysia. There was no looking back for this goalie. His progress has been steady and his performances under the bar consistent. He played for the country in the SAF Games where they lost to Pakistan, then in the junior tours to Poland for the Challenge Trophy where they finished winners, to Germany and the Indoor Asian Games in Macau.

“The indoor tournament was a unique experience. This was the first time the national side was playing in such an event. The six-a-side game was played on a sort of rubberised, fast surface, with an unusual plastic-coated dimpled ball with a different set of rules. We did well to finish third here. I think we’ll soon be seeing a lot of this new, recognised form of the game.”

This year has been a dream one for Sreejesh. He played the eight-nation tournament in Malaysia where India finished runner-up, made his debut in the senior side at the Azlan Shah Cup in Kuala Lumpur where they entered the final after a long gap of 13 years and then the wonderful moment at the dramatic Junior Asia Cup where he was named the best goalkeeper in Asia.

“I got to play three games at the Azlan Shah event, where Adrian (D’Souza) was the main goalkeeper. In the Asia Cup I played six games and conceded only four goals. There were some exciting moments like the brawl against Pakistan and the nail-biting final against South Korea…”

Sreejesh pauses for a moment. He glances at his father and mother who are listening. The confidence of the young man seemed to crumble. Turning away from them he continues. “There was a time when I struggled to find a sponsor. My father, a small-time farmer, did so much for me. A goalkeeper kit costs more than Rs. 50,000.

“There were times when I felt so bad when I saw the others coming with the latest equipment. Now, I have a sponsor, and an assistant manager job with the Indian Overseas Bank in Chennai. The clouds have cleared but the scars remain.”


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