Indian hockey on a rising curve: PR Sreejesh

KOCHI: Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh has been a vital cog in the resurgence of the Indian team on the hockey field. Having made his international debut in 2006, Sreejesh is the oldest member of the Indian hockey squad now and has seen the team's many transitions up close in the past decade and a half.

Locked up inside the SAI campus in Bengaluru since the countrywide lockdown, the native of Pallikkara in Kochi, is getting plenty of time to think about the past & future of Indian hockey .

"I think Indian hockey is on an upward curve. There are a lot of youngsters coming into the game through the domestic circuit. If these youngsters are groomed properly, I don't see any reason why Indian hockey can't return to its glorious past. When I started out, we were struggling against the big teams like Australia, The Netherlands & Germany. The game moved to astroturf in the mid 70's but we didn't move on. Our game used to rely a lot on individual skills, which was more suited to hockey played on grass. So when hockey moved to artificial turf, it was natural that we failed to cope with its speed, technique & tactics," said the 32-year-old.

The former captain feels that the national team took a long time to adjust to playing on an artificial surface. He credits the former Spanish coach Jose Brasa for sowing the seeds of a structural change in Indian hockey & feels that he ushered in a mini-revolution. "It was sometime in 2009-10 when Hockey India was formed & things started looking up for the sport. Brasa came in & for six months he just focused on teaching us the basics of playing on the artificial surface. And that's when I think, things began to change," said Sreejesh.

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Sreejesh has played with less than a dozen coaches in his career, and while the administration is often criticized for constantly cutting and changing coaches, it offers a different perspective. Each of them has contributed to improve the standard of our hockey. I think under our current head coach, Graham reid , now we are moving in the right direction, said the Padma Shri receiver.

Like the IPL in cricket, the shot-stopper feels that the introduction of India League Hockey in 2013 it raised the morale of the players. The foreign players who played with us made a big difference. There was a lot we could learn from them. But most importantly, I think it was that we started to think that we were as good as foreign players. And that confidence was reflected in the way we get closer to our game.

Although Sreejesh was disappointed at first when he learned that the Olympics had been postponed, he believes the right decision has been made. We have another year to hone our skills. Many young people will also grow as players right now and we will have a strong group pushing for a place in the 16-member squad for Tokyo 2021. So I think international competition will definitely make us a better unit. Also, the gap between the top eight teams in world hockey is really narrow. That is why I think we have a good chance of winning a medal in Tokyo. It's just that we have to be mentally focused to do our best. acting on every day at the Olympics, Sreejesh acknowledges.

The custodian is also happy with the way the team's young goalkeepers are training. Although I debuted in 2006, I had to play the waiting game until 2012 to become a regular player. But the current group of archers is getting more opportunities. The quarter-to-quarter game system now gives coaches the option to rotate goalkeepers. I think both Krishan Pathak & Suraj Karkera are shaping up well. As far as competition for places go, I only compete with myself & my focus is on improving my standards," said Sreejesh.