Continuing our series which connects former or current stars of the game with the junior players who are now starting out on their careers, we meet two players from the Indian national scene.
PR Sreejesh needs little introduction as the India national team goalkeeper and bronze medallist from the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The giant goalkeeper, whose personality shines through every interview, has been a part of the national senior team since 2010 and has more than 240 senior caps to his name.
Just starting out on his international career is Yashdeep Siwach, who will be one of the squad of young players hoping to defend the title that India won in 2016.
Over the course of the conversation, Sreejesh revealed that since India won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 he had been on a whirlwind of visits to schools and colleges and some exciting meetings with politicians and other sporting celebrities.
“You are seeing kids buying hockey sticks and it is like there is a new awareness of the sport,” he said as he reflected on the appetite that had been whet by a first Olympic medal in 41 years.
“They are dreaming about playing hockey and getting into the national team.”
Sreejesh played in the 2005 Junior World Cup. At that event, his team won an Asia Cup tournament and he was voted Best Goalkeeper.
Yashdeep was selected to the India national squad in 2017 and since then he has spent many months training at the same faculty as the senior team and, he says, watching these players is very inspirational.
“We are looking to do the same [as the men’s senior side] at the Junior World Cup,” says Yashdeep. “We have been preparing well and preparing for a long time. We have been in a bio-bubble for several months now so we are not nervous, we are just very ready.
“We have really bonded off the field as well as one the field, and that makes us much stronger as a team,” adds the young star.
“Leading up to the Olympics we were training together for one and a half years in a camp,” said Sreejesh. “There were very few distractions and that allowed us to know each other very deeply. When we lost the pool game 7-2 to Australia, that could have broken us, but we had built up a unity during lockdown and that helped us to overcome that result.”
The goalkeeper added that the fact they had spent so long in lockdown conditions at the camp had prepared the team for the conditions they would experience in Tokyo.
As the junior national team enters the final stages of preparation for the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup, Sreejesh had this advice: “You might have no international matches in your preparation but you are training together at the camp. Keep working hard, trust your procedures and at the end, you will smile.”
And Sreejesh added that walking out onto the pitch as the host nation came with its own pressures. “It is important that you focus on the basics of the game, that will help you overcome the nerves and concentrate on your game.”
And Sreejesh also had these words of praise for the India women’s national team: “The performance by the India women’s team when they beat Australia and made it into the semi-finals [in Tokyo] inspired a million girls to start playing hockey. When we sit together as a men’s team and a women’s team, we spoke about the energy that the female players poured into their game. We can all learn from that.”
Watch the full interview on .