Back from injury, Sreejesh PR ready for second innings'

It was after eight months that he will return to the field, having fought a serious knee injury that saw him go under the knife in June last.

New Delhi: There are two faces hockey goalkeeper Sreejesh P.R. likes to show the world. One, his aggressive and in-your-face competitive side on the field that often puts opposition under pressure and the other of an easygoing, nonchalant prankster who takes life as it comes.

Interactions with him are often full of banter and laughs as the 29-year-old Kerala custodian — who led India at the 2016 Rio Olympics and is better known as ‘The Wall’ — doesn’t shy away from playing pranks on his team mates and sometimes, even coaches!

One rarely gets to see his emotional side but on Monday, when his name appeared on the team list for the upcoming four-nation hockey tournament in New Zealand, the six-foot goalkeeper clutched the tiny piece of paper in his hands and let the tears flow.

It was after eight months that he will return to the field, having fought a serious knee injury that saw him go under the knife in June last. “It was emotional, tough and sometimes very lonely,” says Sreejesh as he prepares for his “second innings” having last played for the country at the Azlan Shah tournament in April 2017. Sreejesh took a heavy blow on the knee in the match against Australia, resulting in an anterior crucial ligament injury.

“That one moment changed everything for me,” recalls Sreejesh. “I was in good form and was constantly in the list of world’s best goalkeepers but that one week shook me.

“Doctors said I need to undergo surgery and will be out for long. From being confined to bed for three weeks to walking with the help of crutches, I had to learn everything again. There was physical pain and then there was something inside me that was breaking too.

“From a life of limelight and crazy schedules, I was just sitting in the bed at home asking my mother to help me get even a glass of water. Suddenly, I was unsure of my future and had doubts if I would return. There were many nights when I cried alone.

“So after so many months when I finally saw my name on the team sheet, I became very emotional. It feels I have been given a second birth,” the Padma Shri said from Bengaluru.

The situation was tough and the road ahead long and unknown. But then, there is a fighter in him that comes to the fore each time the chips are down.

“Initially, it took me time to accept all this but after two weeks, I decided to focus on educating myself about the injury and the rehabilitation process. It was tough but then I never lost sight of my target.”

Sreejesh says he has named the Kiwi tour as a “welcome back” tournament as he prepares for a tough year ahead in which India will compete in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, followed by the World Cup at home.

“It is a welcome back tournament… hockey is calling me back and I am extremely grateful. I know I will have butterflies in my stomach when I step on the field next week, but at least I am back. And I am going to make the most of it.”
In the last three years, many of India’s triumphs have come on the back of the custodian’s extra-ordinary displays and have often seen many ask, “Who after Sreejesh?”

But the last few months also saw the emergence of two young ’keepers in Akash Chikte and Suraj Karkera. And even though they cannot be talked of in the same breath as Sreejesh as yet, they are surely the ones for the future.

Ask Sreejesh if it put pressure on him and he says, “If anything, it only motivated me. They are young and talented and one day, someone has to replace me. I never live in false hope and if they are doing well, it is my responsibility to raise my game. And that is what I needed all this while.”

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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