It was a photo that encapsulated the journey of a player and a human that extracted every last bit of his superhero prowess to gift India its first Olympic medal in Hockey in 41 years. It was a photo of an individual named PR Sreejesh, the captain of the Indian hockey team, after winning the bronze medal, and saving a potentially game-changing, extra time inducing penalty stroke sitting nonchalantly atop the goalpost, soaking it all in, and at last, smiling.
Let me smile now 🙏 pic.twitter.com/8tYTZEyakU
— sreejesh p r (@16Sreejesh) August 5, 2021
“That’s my place. That’s where I spent my entire life. I think I just wanted to showcase that I am the owner of this post now and I just celebrated because the frustration, the sorrows, me and my post share it together. The post also deserves some respect,” said Sreejesh on the reason behind his unique celebration.
After crashing out in the semi-final against world no. 1 Belgium in a rather gallant manner, India pieced together itself and put in an incredible shift, showing tremendous character against the mighty Germans. While the entire team brought it’s A-game, it was Sreejesh, a man possessed, a man looking to right the wrongs, a man looking to turn the disappointment of letting down the countrymen five years ago at Rio, that turned up his game by a couple of notches.
Sreejesh saved as many as 13 penalty strokes from the Deutsch attacking cavalcade and stood like a wall, with an impenetrable defence. India were leading 5-4 in the match, and if Germany had scored the goal with 6 seconds remaining on the clock, the match would have been pushed to the shootouts. But Sreejesh denied Germany’s Lukas Windfeder as India celebrated the bronze medal win in Tokyo.
Sreejesh made his debut in 2006 and instantly made his mark. He was awarded the Best Goalkeeper in the Junior Asia Cup in 2008. The Kochi born lad played a key role in the 2011 Asia Champions Trophy final by saving two penalties. In the 2014 and 2018 Champions Trophy he was named “Goalkeeper of the Tournament”. In 2016, being the captain of the India Hockey Team he lifted the silver medal at the Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy, London.
Safe to say, Sreejesh was the immovable object that the Germans had no idea how to breach when it mattered the most. And it wasn’t only this match where Sreejesh showed his superhuman instincts – throughput the course of the tournament, whether it be against New Zealand, Argentina or even Belgium, Sreejesh was the standout player.