PR Sreejesh

PR Sreejesh, India’s last-second saviour

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When PR Sreejesh was in main college, at a village 30 kilometres east of Kochi, his bodily schooling trainer was satisfied that he had unearthed the subsequent sporting sensation. Sreejesh was good at every thing — he may hurl the discus and javelin a good distance, he may leap, smash and spike, he was in each volleyball and basketball groups, may carry out the lengthy leap in addition to excessive leap. Typically, he may run too, although he himself despised operating.

He revelled in each sport, anticipate hockey that’s.

So versatile was Sreejesh that he was referred to GV Raja Sports activities College, the government-run main sports activities college within the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, the place he may hone no matter sporting talent he wished.

It was troublesome to persuade his sceptical dad and mom, who had been farmers, earlier than his lecturers dangled the golden carrot of these instances. “Sports quota, government job.” Sreejesh too was gung-ho, besides when the second of departure arrived, an ineffable heaviness weighed his thoughts down. “I had never stayed away from them, and the day I was to board the train, I broke down. I didn’t want to leave. I am usually a confident boy, but that day, I felt uneasy,” he had as soon as recollected to this reporter.

PR Sreejesh PR Sreejesh with coach Graham Reid and skipper Manpreet Singh after the historic win in opposition to Germany.

Thiruvananthapuram, simply 200km away, appeared like eons away. An unfamiliar tradition, meals habits and environment, a faraway universe from his household, mates and farms. However because the practice chugged alongside the beautiful backwaters and rivulets on that scenic route, Sreejesh rearranged his morale. On the finish of the three-hour-journey, as he set foot in Thiruvananthapuram, he out of the blue felt grown-up and assured, and able to face the world. “I felt a sudden wave of confidence, as if my life was going to change, that this was the beginning of my real journey,” he mentioned.

A brand new starting

Life was to alter past Sreejesh’s wildest creativeness. On the college, he handed by a gaggle of youngsters taking part in hockey. He had little clue that this was to be his future. The following day, he walked into the throws area. He was left shocked by the physicality of fellow trainees. “I felt like a worm.” He stopped by the basketball and volleyball courts. “I seemed like a dwarf.” He deliberated on soccer. “No, it involved a lot of running”. Cricket? “No, I didn’t get the kicks.” Lastly, he made mates with a few hockey guys who had been his age and of comparable physiques. He used to hold round with them and would generally wield the stick, however with out a lot success.

That’s when one of many hockey coaches, Jayakumar, noticed him. “He was a defender or a centre-half, who was a lazy runner. But had excellent reflexes that always saved him. Then I thought why not make him a goalkeeper. Kids don’t like being ’keepers, but it’s an important role,” he explains.

Years later, these split-second reflexes would make him one in all India’s most interesting goalkeepers. His saves all through the Video games had been instrumental in orchestrating India’s bronze medal in Tokyo, ending a 41-year-drought. The saves in opposition to Germany had been spectacular, particularly the one he pulled off within the dying phases of the match, locked at 5-4. The penalty nook seemed goal-bound earlier than his reflexes intervened. It was not reflexes alone that went behind the save, however his unfettered ardour, his unbudging will.

PR Sreejesh PR Sreejesh at his hometown. (Specific Picture)

After the sport, India coach Graham Reid mentioned, “Having someone in goal as reliable as Sreejesh helps. He’s a stalwart of Indian hockey. He’s done a lot of work in the background to get to where he is today.”

To be the stalwart, it wanted hours on discipline.

“He took time to get used to the gear, but everything else he learned fast. He had that game sense and anticipation, and for his age, he had the presence,” Jayakumar says. Then as Sreejesh hit teenage, he began rising taller and muscular and was truly mistaken for a shot-putter or javelin thrower. “A lot of people thought he was one of them,” he says.

Although Jayakumar was sure of his ward’s potential, he knew his potential can be wasted in Kerala, a hockey backwater, the place hockey is that recreation “where India was once glorious but now reeling”, barely watched even in the course of the Olympics. Ask a Malayali what number of gamers he is aware of. Most certainly, he would roll down three fingers. Dhyan Chand, Dhanraj Pillay… and now Sreejesh.

No takers for hockey

That the state constructed its first astro turf in 2015 nails the anonymity of the sport on this neck of the woods. Simply seven have represented the nation from the state, and besides Sreejesh all within the pre-astro turf period. He had only a ragged goalkeeping gear, and worse, it was not even out there in his city. Coincidentally, although, the state’s two most reputed hockey gamers had been goalkeepers — Helen Mary (2002 Commonwealth Video games gold medallist) and Manuel Frederick (1972 Munich Video games bronze medallist).

Just like the baseball membership in Hindi motion pictures, the hockey stick was that clawed piece of wooden dangerous guys brandished in motion pictures. So Jayakumar known as one in all his mates, then nationwide junior coach Harendra Singh to take a look at the teenager. The latter, coincidentally, had come to observe a U-14 event in Thiruvananthapuram. Impressed, he invited Jayakumar and Sreejesh to the junior camp in Delhi in 2003. The latter reached Delhi with only a non-branded bag and never even a ’keeper’s package as his dad and mom couldn’t afford one (it used to value round Rs 15,000). “In inter-state tournaments, they used to make fun of my gear. It didn’t bother me. I had my body and my biggest weapon was my mind,” he had mentioned.

PR Sreejesh PR Sreejesh at his Kochi residence. (Specific Photographs)

Wowed by the teenager’s skills, Harendra took him to the junior camp for the 2004 Asia Cup. He didn’t make the ultimate squad, however made it to the Junior Asia Cup, after which he was by no means dropped from the junior staff. “Life changed,” Sreejesh mentioned. And it saved altering; he turned a multiple-time Olympian, World-Cupper, Asian Video games gold medallist and now getting ready to an Olympics medal.

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A beatifically-smiling Sreejesh friends from the oddest of commercial hoardings, a hair-weaving firm’s billboard on one of many busiest roads in Kochi, of a neighborhood mattress, a footwear model that specialises in sandals and slippers, and as a Tokyo Olympics columnist for a vernacular newspaper.

Kerala didn’t fall in love with him at first sight, it was extra of an organized marriage, whereby they ultimately fell in love with him. Hockey as such has sparse following, depart alone appreciation – Chak De! India barely noticed a fortnight. That he repeatedly turned out for Tamil Nadu, as he was an Indian Abroad Financial institution worker based mostly in Chennai, didn’t foster a lot love both.

Sreejesh may perceive this at the moment. “It’s difficult to love a goalkeeper. He is invisible, and is only in the limelight when he makes a blunder. When I was young, I didn’t know who India’s goalkeeper was then. Besides, I am not someone who goes behind attention, never gone behind superstar-dom,” he mentioned.

Widespread man turns into icon

Not for lengthy although. The sports-mad state desperately wanted a sporting hero/heroine. No footballer of IM Vijayan class had emerged since his farewell; no one of many Anju Bobby George mettle both; none after Jimmy George and Tom Joseph in volleyball; Sreesanth, properly, was in a whirlpool of mess; Sanju Samson was the perennial, aromatic bud that by no means blossomed. The Indian Tremendous League had not but descended and the Indian Premier League now not had a neighborhood staff.

Then got here the barrel-chested Sreejesh along with his twinkling reflexes and bullet-proof coronary heart. The 2014 Asian Video games gold medal definitely helped construct his stature, but it surely was not merely sporting accomplishments that made him an icon. His manner too performed an enormous position.

In image-building, he didn’t want PR equipment. His genuineness endeared, placing an inviolable chord with the lots. He was their superb sporting hero – a fancy idea, as they’d adore Maradona, however wouldn’t need one in all their very own to be a Maradona off the pitch. Sreejesh by no means spun a scandal, was utmost gamely, remained grounded, by no means threw superstar tantrums, by no means ripped off in luxurious vehicles or flaunted monstrous homes (that ubiquitous Malayali fetish), by no means plunged into ill-advised enterprise ventures. He spoke, talked and walked like an everyman one sees on the road.

PR Sreejesh Sreejesh sits on prime of the goalpost as he celebrates profitable the match for bronze. (REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)

A tattoo on his proper bicep maybe is his solely signage of uberness. He embodied the son-of-the-soil spirit that each Malayali secretly prizes shut to at least one’s coronary heart. Nothing has modified in him. Sreejesh himself had mentioned {that a} extra comfy house than his netted cage is the verandah of his home, the place he may sprawl after a heavy lunch and slip into a day siesta.

Final 12 months, he was noticed cleansing the unkempt lane in entrance of his home in a shirt and lungi with a handloom towel wrapped round his brow; the video went viral. To curious onlookers, he gently replied: “Who else would wash the dirt that has accumulated in front of my house?”

In tv reveals, he barely utters a phrase in anger, his slang unstained by affectations, nonetheless permeating the innocence of the countryside. Like Vijayan, he’s relatable and approachable, right down to earth, and doesn’t entice the hidden tall-poppy syndrome.

“He remains very humble to the day, did not get dragged into a luxurious life. He is a role model for young sportsmen,” says Jayakumar. And he has received a complete state hooked to the unfamiliar rhymes and rhythms of a recreation that they’ve by no means embraced or welcomed.

That, maybe, is the most important legacy of Sreejesh — he made football-loving, volleyball-playing, cricket-watching Malayalis watch hockey, observe the sport that’s not their old flame (or second or third). A journey that started from a sleepy Kochi suburb has waltzed into the collective Malayali sports activities consciousness.

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