PR Sreejesh battles for spot in Indian hockey team after injury lay-off
The last time PR Sreejesh donned the national team jersey, coach Sjoerd Marijne was preparing the women's hockey team for five-match Test series in New Zealand.
His deputies Akash Chitke and Suraj Karkera had just arrived in the squad and were eager to get an opportunity to play. That was eight months ago.
Fast forward to 2018 and Marijne is now coach of men's team, while Akash and Suraj have cemented their place with impressive runs in the Asia Cup and Hockey World League Finals.
It has been a tough eight months for Sreejesh, recovering from a knee injury he sustained during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and what makes it even tougher for the 29-year-old goalkeeper is the fact that he now has to fight for his place back in the starting line-up.
Sreejesh is looking forward to his comeback at the four-national tournament in New Zealand, starting January 17, but he is also aware of the ground realities.
"It's good to be back in the squad. I think a lot has changed since I played for India and I had gone through a lot of struggles. Now, it's time to perform. It is a test period for me, to see where I stand and where I need to improve," Sreejesh told Mail Today.
Banking on his vast experience between the goalposts, he added: "I hope my experience will help me perform. First I need to prove myself that I am ready to take on the challenge in New Zealand before eyeing the major events. The goalkeepers did really well. We could see their inexperience in some places but they raised the bar for me and I can see the potential in them. I relish a fight for the playing spot as the healthy competition will help me to improve."
The anterior crucial ligament injury Sreejesh carried on his right knee needed surgery and months of rehabilitation, before the Kerala ace joined the national camp formally in September last year.
Speaking on his prolonged time on the sidelines, Srejeesh recalled the challenges and negativity that surrounded him while the only thought that kept him going was of wearing the national colours one more time.
"I never had such a big break in my career. Getting a knee injury at times can end a player's career but I promised myself I will wear the national jersey again. Every day I did my work, I limped, I tried to walk, all I had in mind is the jersey. There is a lot of negativity surrounding you during that period.
"Everyone kept telling me I got the injury at the wrong time but frankly, the injury has changed me as a
person. I changed myself as a new Sreejesh. When I came to the national camp, I wore my pads to get the feel. I started to kick the ball, then stood in the pole and it felt positive. Since then, I am just focusing on making myself better than before," he said.