India men’s hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh said that one mistake behind the goalposts can make the player a villain even if he had a great game otherwise.
In their video interview series titled ‘Double Trouble,’ India cricketers Jemimah Rodrigues and Smriti Mandhana spoke to former India hockey captain Sardar Singh and goalkeeper Sreejesh about the similarities between the two sports, handling big-game pressure and more.
The episode saw Sreejesh talk about how the national hockey team is training in the Bengaluru campus, where both the men’s and the women’s team have been since before the coronavirus lockdown.
“Thankfully, we can practice social distancing here as the campus is 90 acres big. We train in small groups of four and five during one training session. Over there, we do our exercises and other training drills. We are waiting for directions from the government for more guidelines.”
Srejeesh, though, tried to make light of the situation with all sporting activities suspended because of the pandemic. “You will be fresh [when the sporting calendar resumes]. Your mind will be fresh and you will be desperate to play well and make up for lost time,” he said.
The India goalie had a funny story about how he became a goalkepeer as a child.
“Initially, I was a shot put player. I tried volleyball too. Hockey was fun when I started playing it. In my mind, I was thinking ‘I shouldn’t run a lot.’ That’s how I became a goalkeeper,” Sreejesh joked.
Sardar said he took his fitness drills seriously during his playing days. The powerful midfelder, who was known for his dribbling and stinging reverse hits, retired in 2018.
“Our sport involves a lot of running so I always tried to be on the top of my fitness drills. I worked on my reverse hits a lot during training. I would stay back after training sessions and work on it.”
Sreejesh added: “There is a GPS system that we use during training where you have to complete at least 5-7 kms in one session. If you can’t finish, you’ll have to complete it after the training is done. You could trick the coaches in the past but now it is thorough.”
Sreejesh was asked about the stakes involved with manning the goalposts and how goalkeepers have the mental edge in penalty shootouts.
“At least the wicketkeeper gets to bat in cricket to make up for the errors they committed while ‘keeping. In a game like hockey, you can save 25 shots but one bad mistake will make you a villain. My childhood coach told me that I, as a goalkeeper, can be the reason to win or lose a match.
“The only time where the pressure is not on us is the shootout. We have five tries to get it right while the shooter has only one chance.”
Mandhana and Rodrigues, both of whom have played World Cup finals, talked about handling nerves in the big occasion. Mandhana has now been in two finals, the 2017 World Cup in England and the 2020 T20 World Cup clash with Australia in front of a record crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
“As a cricketer you always dream about playing at Lord’s,” Mandhana remembered the 2017 final against England. “All the tickets were sold out. The night before, I thought: ‘Just concentrate on the ball. It is just another cricket match after all. This time [in 2020], the average of the team was 22-23.”
“Jemi [Rodrigues] spoke to me and said: ‘Just concentrate on the cricket.’”
Rodrigues chipped in: “[Coach] Raman sir took the pressure off us by avoiding the word ‘World Cup’ anywhere during our team meetings. Instead he just used ‘tournament’ to take the pressure off. That helped us a lot. It was just like another final for us.
“He said, you might never get the opportunity to do it again. Go out and enjoy the game.”
Catch the full episode of Double Trouble here: