It is a very difficult phase for any sportsperson to be in, especially when it is time to prepare for the season ahead. Veteran Indian hockey goalkeeper P R Sreejesh would have been fine tuning his skills with the Tokyo Olympics knocking on the door at this time of the year, but he has been left disappointed with the postponement of the marquee quadrennial event due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 31-year-old, who excelled in football and basketball during his school days, revealed to Malayala Manorama readers during an interactive session how he found his calling in hockey and how he could combine the love for the game and a career as a professional.
Here are some select questions from the session and Sreejesh’s answers to them:
In general, hockey goalkeepers are at the highest risk of injury. You wear extensive protective equipment including helmet, face and neck guards, that look like an astronaut suit. Can you tell us about the essential elements of a goalkeeper's armoury?
Musfar Rashad, Kunnumal, Malappuram.
Goalkeepers in hockey rely on head-to-toe personal protective equipment for safety. Goalmouth melees increase the risk of being struck by swinging sticks and the fast-flying ball. Instead of boots, goalkeepers wear protective shields, known as ‘kickers’, in order to kick away and stop the ball with their feet.
The other essential pieces of kit for goalkeepers at any level also include heavy leg and thigh guards as well as abdominal and chest guards. Body armour covers the fragile collar bones and upper arm. The two gloves are specifically designed. The left glove is for blocking the ball, while the right one also has this function, but is also designed to permit the goalkeeper to hold and use the stick. goalkeepers are required to wear a helmet and a throat protector. When I started playing two decades ago, the whole gear used to weigh around 12-15 kilograms. Now lighter kits are available in India and the total weight of the accessories has come down to 4 to 5 kilograms.
Football and cricket are the two most popular sports in Kerala. How did you fall in love with hockey which does not have a huge fan base in the state?
Paul Antony, Cherthala; Arunlal, Aranmula; and T T Mansoor, Thalassery.
I started with shot put when I was in school. When I joined the GV Raja Sports School in Thiruvananthapuram, I realised that there were better shot putters around! It forced me to try my hand at football, volleyball and basketball. The two persons who encouraged me to pursue a career in hockey were my coaches Jayakumar sir and Ramesh Kolappa sir.
When I started training, I developed a special liking for goal-keeping. Former Indian hockey player Dinesh Nayak and Olympian K M Beenamol, who once visited the school, motivated me to take up the sport passionately. Based on my performance in the Junior Nationals, I was picked for the national Under-16 camp. Eventually I broke into the national squad when I was still under the age of 18 years.
You are the ‘Mr Cool’ of Indian hockey. Being the captain and the goalkeeper, your role in the team brings a great deal of responsibility. How do you handle that pressure?
Fr. Antony Kanjirathinkal, St. Ephrem's Sports Academy, Mannanam.
I don’t think I’m that cool! There were instances when I lost my temper on the field and got angry. At the same time, I love to motivate my teammates. While on the field, I never think about the past or worry about the future. I hum a song or whistle a tune to calm my nerves while dealing with high-pressure situations like defending a penalty kick.
Have you ever been so excited while playing that you felt like leaving your goal to actively participate in outfield play?
Vinoj Jacob, Malakunnam, Kottayam.
Of course. But the goalkeeper is not permitted to go beyond the ‘D’ circle. Once you leave that area, you are allowed to play with the stick only. If the ‘keeper touches the ball with his feet or body outside the circle, it will be deemed a foul. When there is a rush of blood, I remind myself of Neelakandan’s famous dialogue to his nemesis Mundakkal Sekharan in the movie Devasuram and stop my emotions from getting out of control.
There is a road named after you – Olympian Sreejesh Road – in your native village Kizhakkambalam. How does it feel when you travel on that stretch?
K Anjana, Kottekkad, Palakkad.
The road passes through in front my house. The state government bestowed such a great honour upon me after India won the Asian Games gold in 2014. I’m grateful that my deeds will be remembered forever.
Do you have any political aspirations?
M D Anilkumar, Amaravila, Thiruvananthapuram.
I have strong political views, but there is no intention to be part of electoral politics.