Once the match is over, PR Sreejesh is everywhere. He’s taking selfies with a few spectators. He’s throwing water from his sipper on his teammates. He’s pulling his other teammate’s leg, literally, during a photoshoot. He’s giving interviews to journalists. It’s as if he’s been unchained from the goalpost and there’s still a lot of energy to be spent.
But when the game’s on, Sreejesh is immersed in it. He is constantly yelling instructions to his teammates. He is on high alert even when the ball is in the opposition circle. He is a big bulk of red-hot intensity with a headband. Like he was against India’s 4-0 thrashing of New Zealand in the last of the three-match series on Sunday.
The victory, the third one in a row for India, was much needed, he tells Scroll.in. For after the heartbreaking defeat to Australia in shootouts of the Champions Trophy final, he concedes, the team was a “bit low”.
“We wanted to get into a winning habit ahead of the Asian Games (beginning next month). But even though we have won the tournament, there are areas in which we should improve,” he says.
He doesn’t want to divulge all of the “areas” lest the opponents take advantage of them. But there are ones that are obvious, like the poor penalty corner conversion rate.
“Yes, we got a lot of penalty corners that we weren’t able to convert. We have got four of the best drag-flickers in the world, so we want to change this. Maybe try out variations so that we can get better conversion rates,” he says.
The loudest voice one would hear during a match involving India will most likely be of Sreejesh. He was, when he guarded India’s net (sometimes, even from the sidelines when he was subbed), shouting instructions to his teammates.
The goalkeeper, he says, is the “coach on the field.”
“When you are the goalkeeper, you get a better view of things. I just organise my defence and plan out the counterattacks,” he explains.
The constant communication also keeps him glued to the game. “Goalkeeper is going to be away from the game. There are a lot of things to distract you. So, it’s important to communicate with the team, be in the game so that even if there’s one goal threat, you need to save it. I need to switch on myself, so the more I communicate, the more I am in the game.”
After every game in the three-match series against New Zealand, the teams involved in a training session of shootouts. Asked if this was the after-effect of the Champions Trophy defeat, Sreejesh says: “Why do you even want to think about shootout if we can win during the game. We are focusing more on scoring. So that we don’t want to face that situation. When it comes to shootouts there’s an added pressure on the players. But if it goes to shootouts, then this kind of practice is going to help us.”