PR Sreejesh came second best in a penalty shootout. The goalkeeper had made it a habit of dishing out superlative performances under the bar in shootouts and has been the cornerstone of Indian hockey team’s recent success. But on a cold Friday evening at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre in London, the lad from Kochi couldn’t really pull it off against the mighty Aussies in a controversial penalty shootout which India lost 1-3.
However, leading India in a tournament for the first time, the 28-year-old is proud of what his team has achieved – a first-ever silver medal in Champions Trophy. Moments before he boarded the flight to Spain – where the Indian team will be playing in a six-nation tournament next – Sreejesh spoke to TOI from London on the significance of India’s Champions Trophy silver medal, the disappointment of losing in shootout and team’s Rio hopes
his was the first time that you captained India in a tournament and the team won its first-ever CT silver medal. Your thoughts…
To be frank, a bit disappointed. We played brilliantly in the final, got under the skin of Aussies. But a goal eluded us in normal time and in the shootout things didn’t go our way. But I am very happy at what we have accomplished. This silver medal was important for this young team. It is a huge confidence-booster as we head to the Olympics.
You are known as India’s saviour in shootouts. What happened against Australia, did law of averages catch up with you?
(Laughs) I was confident going into the penalty shootout and was hoping to pull off at least two saves. But the shootout is not just about goalkeepers. Your fellow players have to score too. Our players did exceedingly well in regulation time. But couldn’t deliver in the shootout and I felt that extra bit of pressure in goal. In shootouts, luck plays an important factor. On Friday, the rub of the green didn’t go our way.
When Beale came in and tried to take a shot on goal, I tried to close my legs and block his shot, which I did. In that process, the ball rolled under my pad for a fraction of a second before it bounced back into play. I made it difficult for him to score on the second attempt as I cut down the angle and saw his shot going wide.
The umpire had ruled the penalty take was ‘over’ but then the Aussie asked for a referral as he felt there was an infringement. The TV umpire ruled that mine was unintentional obstruction and ordered for a retake of the penalty. We lodged a protest against the TV umpire’s decision because we felt that the attempt was allowed to go on for more than 14 seconds and the obstruction that was referred to the TV umpire took place outside the eight-second limit for such an attempt. But after reviewing the incident, the tournament jury stuck with the match officials’ decision and Australia were declared winners. These things happen in hockey and you have to take it on your chin.
So that meant that India’s first ever silver-medal had to be presented to you and your team members indoors.
Yeah, it was a bit disappointing. But then, history won’t show whether you were presented the silver medal on the field or off it. History will always reflect India as silver medal winners in Champions Trophy in 2016.
It’s not often that we see the Indian team dominate possession against the mighty Aussies and hold them goalless. What changed in 24 hours after going down tamely against them in the league stage?After the loss against Australia in the league stage, we did a bit of soul searching and had an extended team meeting. And we were more determined to do better when we stepped on to the field on Friday evening. We already knew we were a part of history. However, we wanted to translate that already assured silver medal into gold. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. But credit to the team and support staff for the tremendous show.
What are the positives to come out of this tournament?
There was a general feeling that India can give more fancied opponents a tough fight only at full strength. In this tournament, we had rested quite a few senior players including our captain Sardar Singh. The youngsters who came in played remarkably well. Though I was named captain, on the field the captain’s armband was worn by a field player. We rotated the on-field captain in the tourney and whoever wore the armband took the responsibility and marshalled the troops admirably. This tournament has given tremendous exposure and self-belief to the players, especially the younger ones and I think we are moving in the right direction.
But the Indian team has been guilty of conceding quite a few penalty corners?
Yes, that’s an area we need to work on. In one or two matches we were guilty of committing unnecessary fouls in the dying moments of the game. We have to address that too. There is still tremendous scope for improvement, which I am sure we will do.