Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


India's unbreakable wall: Ever-reliable PR Sreejesh warms up for his 300th game

Termed 'the wall' for his exploits in the goal, PR Sreejesh has outlived a generation of hockey players in India and is still going strong.

P R Sreejesh Hockey

Indian men's hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh (Source: Getty)


Pritish Raj

Updated: 12 Aug 2023 9:54 AM GMT

Chennai: The stage in Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in Chennai on Friday will be set for an exciting semifinal clash between India and Japan, and it will also coincide with a milestone for the Indian goalkeeper, PR Sreejesh.

The custodian will don his 300th cap for the national team, becoming the first-ever Indian goalkeeper to achieve the milestone and only the eighth Indian hockey player to feature in 300 games or more.

After playing for more than 17 years, the goalkeeper from Kerala has outlived a generation of hockey players and is still going strong showing no signs of slowing down.

In the mixed zone, when a reporter asked if he would feature in another Asian Champions Trophy, he quipped, "Aye, at this age, you don't ask me about the next two or three years, but you can ask me about the next year. I am there in the Asian Games team, so taking one tournament at a time."

Then he flexed his muscles and said, "As Djokovic said it, 35 is the new 25."

India's reliable cushion at the back

For years, PR Sreejesh was like India's safety net as the team fell back on him whenever a defender missed a ball or whenever the midfield failed to contain the opponent's attackers.

After making his national team debut in 2006, Sreejesh had to sit on the bench as the understudy for seniors Bharat Chhetri and Adrien D'Souza.

His career coincided with one of the darkest periods of Indian hockey, with an incompetent and corrupt administration making the country fail to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics - the lowest point of Indian hockey, and a string of poor performances followed.

After waiting for nearly half a decade, Sreejesh started playing regularly in 2011. He produced a match-winning performance in the Asian Champions Trophy that year, when he saved two penalty strokes against Pakistan in the final to help India win the trophy.

Asked about his early days, Sreejesh said, “Being a goalkeeper, I spent good three to four years as the second goalkeeper in the team.”

“It feels how much I have grown in these years,” he added.

After getting his first crack, Sreejesh continued his brilliant run in front of goal. He stood out like a rock in the 2014 Asian Games, where he made a double save against Pakistan to guide India to a gold medal - a feat the country achieved for the first time since 1998, and a ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

As Sreejesh continued to post impressive performances on the field, his legend kept growing, and the Kerala government honoured him, naming the bypass road passing along his house in his village Kizhakkambalam as 'Olympian Sreejesh Road' in 2015.

Usually, such honours come for sports persons when they retire. But things are different for Sreejesh, the ‘living legend’.

The Olympic dream

PR Sreejesh was named the captain of the team going to the 2016 Olympics, and he felt the responsibility of retrieving the lost glory of Indian hockey at the Olympics in Paris.

India did better in the 2016 Rio Olympics than the dismal show they displayed in London in 2012 when the Men in Blue finished at the bottom of the final standings. But the team could not earn back a podium finish either in Rio. India lost to the eventual silver medalists, Belgium, in the quarterfinals.

That photograph of Sreejesh crying in the goalpost after the loss remained ingrained in the hearts of hockey fans.

The ghosts of the 2012 and 2016 Olympics have gradually waned, but the wait for an Olympic medal continued for India and their ever-reliable custodian Sreejesh. The men's team gradually started finding their feet, with Sreejesh keeping a vigilant eye on the goal.

A tale of two pictures- Sreejesh crying inside goal post after 2016 Olympcis (left) and Sreejesh after winning bronze medal at Tokyo Olympics.

Fast forward to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, India was playing for a historic bronze medal with a lead of 5-4 against Germany. With six seconds to go, the Germans won a penalty corner.

All eyes in the stadium were fixated on the number 16 in the Indian goal, and millions back home were praying for a save. Sreejesh did not disappoint; he warded off a mighty drag flick. A historic bronze medal was secured, a first for India in 40 years.

Emotions ran high as the Indian team broke into celebrations while the fans back home rejoiced at the end of a long wait.

Amid all this, Sreejesh approached the goalpost - which he has been guarding for years and sat on the top of it in a show of him conquering the post.

Former India coach Harendra Singh told Sony Sports, “Sreejesh has been one of the finest goalkeepers in this Olympics. He has played a huge role. He always guided the defenders. He has sacrificed a lot for this moment. I can go on writing about Sreejesh's sacrifices.”

It is poetic justice that Sreejesh will walk to receive his 300th cap on the venue where he began his career for the Hockey State Unit of Tamil Nadu.

Next Story