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Never give up, fight till last moment: RR Sreejesh

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BENGALURU, July 8: Playing in his fourth and probably last Olympics, veteran India hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has learnt a valuable lesson from the T20 World Cup-winning cricket team — ‘never give up and celebrate’ early and this is something which will be embedded in his mind in the Paris Olympics.

The Indian cricket team rose from the ashes in the final of the T20 World Cup, snatching a seven-run victory over South Africa from the jaws of defeat to end an 11-year ICC title drought.

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India’s last major ICC title was the Champions Trophy in 2013 under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership.

“I did watch the final. The biggest learning from this World Cup is that don’t celebrate before the last ball. South Africa was almost winning till the 15th over but the Indian team did not give up hope and snatched the win from the jaws of defeat,” Sreejesh, who has 328 India caps, told PTI Bhasha.           “That’s what not only us (hockey team) but every Olympic-bound athlete can learn from our cricket team is that never give up, just wait and fight till the last moment, you will achieve it. I will remember this in the Olympics,” he said.

Regarded as the ‘The Wall of Indian hockey’, Sreejesh still remembers that one advice he got from “The Wall of Indian cricket’, Rahul Dravid.

“I met Dravid bhai long back. He told us about the importance of patience and waiting for your moment. That’s what I did. I did not become one of the best goalkeepers in the world overnight. I waited for my opportunities. I have also learnt to remain humble from him,” he said.

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Sreejesh started playing hockey to get grace marks in the board exams but went on to win an Olympic medal —  bronze in Tokyo — and also became the only goalkeeper from the country to feature in four Olympics.

“It’s a great honour, a proud moment but comes with a lot of responsibilities. You need to guide the youngsters, you need to keep the team together and help to achieve the common goal of winning a medal at the Olympics,” said the former FIH player of the year.

“It’s a dream journey. I just started playing this game for grace marks in board exams. I never thought that I would play hockey, wear an Indian jersey and participate in the Olympics. I just knew the legendary Dhanraj Pillay, who played 4 Olympics, 4 World Cups, Champions Trophy, Asian Games and today I am the first  goalkeeper going to play my fourth Olympics. It’s hard to believe.”

Sreejesh was the hero of India’s win over Germany in the bronze medal play-off match in Tokyo and he is very well aware of the expectations from him in Paris.

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“Expectations come with achievements and we don’t have to take it negatively. I believe that it will give us the boost to perform even better in Paris. I want to tell the youngsters in the team that expectations and criticism will be there but on the field you are the boss. Stick to your basics, execute your plans and enjoy the game,” he said.

He also acts as a mentor for the youngsters of the team and loves to throw challenges to get the best out of them.

“Mentoring is very important as you are the one who played this game, failed, succeeded and when you tell these things to the kids, they understand. I always challenge forwards, make fun of them if they don’t score. They accept this and try to do better,” he said.

“The Olympics are too much pressure. It’s like a pressure cooker. You are closely followed by the media, there will be social media, coaches, people give you many ideas and these things distract you. I just tell them to play as a team without hearing these noises.”

India are placed in a tough Pool B in the Olympics along side Argentina, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand and Ireland.

“Argentina have good 3D skills, the Australians are very strong and Belgium have very experienced forward line but I feel that on that particular day, it’s all about using your experience and knowledge against them,” he said.

“For me visualization is the key. You play hockey for 365 days and in the Olympics we are also going to play the same but the ground, the audience and the atmosphere put you under pressure. Those who can play their best hockey under that pressure can win.” (PTI)

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