'I Feel 16, Paris Olympics On My Agenda,' Says Indian Hockey Veteran PR Sreejesh

Sreejesh speaks to The Quint about playing in his fourth World Cup.

5 min read
'I Feel 16, Paris Olympics On My Agenda,' Says Indian Hockey Veteran PR Sreejesh
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Teachers and classmates at the history lectures in Kollam’s Sree Narayana College used to be amused at the lanky, dreamy eyed, forever smiling student who was more interested in the grassy field, that passed as a hockey pitch.

Study of times gone by was a compulsion for Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh after enrolling in a graduate course featuring history as a subject, but his dreams were about writing some glorious chapters in his favourite sport.

Despite having featured in the junior Indian hockey squad when he was in 12th standard, Sreejesh was a subject of bemused discussion among friends as he chose to spend most of his free time pursuing a sport that was unconventional for the coastal state of Kerala.


Hockey, despite India’s glorious history, did not feature among the fashionable games that attracted youngsters in his home state. Athletics, football and volleyball were traditionally what kids used to be crazy about in the village where Sreejesh was first challenged to a short sprint by his peers.

Sreejesh pulled off an all-important save in the final seconds of the match to help India win the bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

(Photo: Hockey India)

Given that Kerala’s track and field stars were often feted as the best in the country, it was no wonder that Sreejesh began as a sprinter. When in class eight at the C.V. Raja Sports School in Thiruvananthapuram, the hockey coach encouraged Sreejesh to take up goalkeeping as his prowess at sprinting, long jumping or spiking on the volleyball court was not making much headway.

With speed and agility as his hallmark, Sreejesh made startling progress and made his mark quickly as there were few accomplished contenders for the custodian’s role in the junior national squad.

When he first tried putting on the goalkeeping pads as a student of class eight in the sports school, Sreejesh would not have known that the journey he was embarking upon would make him one of the most accomplished hockey players of his generation – featuring in four World Cups and three Olympic Games.

The last of the three Olympics were at Tokyo in 2021, where the spotlight was focused on Sreejesh as he brought off an acrobatic save against Germany with just 6.28 seconds left on the timer to earn India a bronze medal – the country’s first in 41 years since the 1980 Olympic Games.

Appearing in the ongoing FIH World Cup at Odisha’s twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, the 34-year-old Sreejesh is performing his duties with aplomb as the country seeks the first World Cup medal since lifting the title in 1975. Sreejesh is the senior-most member of the Indian squad, featuring in his fourth World Cup, yet he claims to be at the peak of his goalkeeping ability.

“Goalkeepers tend to mature with age. For them, age is not a handicap,” says Sreejesh. “Actually, they get better with experience, the confidence enables them to soak in the pressure.”

“I am absolutely fit and feel as if I am 16, there is every reason for me to look forward to playing in my fourth Olympics at Paris next year,” Sreejesh told The Quint, asserting that he was eager to chase more landmarks.


“Representing India is the biggest motivating factor for any sportsman, there is no need for any other inspiration,” said Sreejesh, whose persona has undergone a dramatic change from the shy youngster who arrived to join the national junior camp at Bangalore in 2004. Nowadays, Sreejesh is very vocal on the turf, often shouting instructions to teammates. This is something he continues despite losing the Indian captaincy, which was bestowed upon him for the Olympic Games in 2016.

When first selected for a tour of Australia with India’s junior team, Sreejesh was a contentious choice, but he proved his detractors wrong by graduating to the senior national squad within two years. He never looked back from the moment he was adjudged as the best goalkeeper in the Junior Asia Cup in 2008.

It took him some time to figure in the starting line-up, but with single minded devotion to perfecting the craft of goalkeeping, Sreejesh went on to become a permanent fixture in the Indian squad. It was after he became captain of the national squad that injury came calling and Sreejesh even contemplated retirement from the game.

“I had several doubts in my mind those days, but advice from some top international goalkeepers was a calming influence. They advised me to be patient and give myself some more time after recovering from injury,” said Sreejesh. Among the fellow goalkeepers that Sreejesh spoke to were Argentina’s Juan Manuel Vivaldi and Jaap Stockman of The Netherlands.


Krishan Pathak makes a save during the ongoing 2023 Hockey World Cup.

(Photo: Hockey India)

In recent times, concerns about Sreejesh being unavailable for a match or a tournament has prompted national coach Graham Reid to give ample opportunities to young Krishan Pathak, who in the past year has been switching the custodian’s duties with Sreejesh in alternative quarters, even during the ongoing World Cup.

For coach Reid, this move is focused on preparing a second line of goalkeepers for future, but Sreejesh asserts that he continues to remain in the frame.

The 25-year-old Pathak first tasted success as a member of the Indian team that won the 2016 Junior World Cup, about six months after he became an orphan. Having lost his mother at the age of 12, Pathak was devastated at the demise of his father, a construction worker who had migrated from Nepal to Punjab’s Kapurthala town, where Pathak was born.

Not quite fascinated by hockey as a child, Pathak started regularly wielding the mulberry stick after his father took him to the Surjit Singh Hockey Academy in Jalandhar, which groomed several internationals.

Facing stinging shots was no big task for the young man, who as a kid had helped his parents move debris at construction sites. “You want to know what pressure means? Ask a kid who has seen his parents toil as labourers and yet struggle to make both ends meet,” says Pathak with a grimace that underscores the mettle he is made of.

Pathak has grown in confidence with every outing wearing the Indian colours. Having a style of his own, in no manner is Pathak similar to Sreejesh. Being shorter in height than his senior, Pathak has to work harder to cover the low angles, but he has proved his ability.

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