At 34 and in the twilight zone, all that is left for Sreejesh is to tick a couple of boxes in a career that has been filled with numerous ups and a few downs.
A second Olympic medal wrapped around his neck with the gigantic Eiffel Tower looming over him is an ultimate dream but for now, he wants to be that safe ‘check-post’ in what will be his third and last Commonwealth Games.
“The life was always not the same. It was always full of ups and downs. I had some really good matches as well some real bad outings. I had a bad start to my career, then gradually, I have risen up the ranks to become India’s No.1 keeper,” Sreejesh told PTI in an interview.
“From witnessing the low of 2012 London Olympics to winning bronze in Tokyo, in between I captained the national team and then in 2018, my career was almost over due to an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury. In Kerala, we have a famous dish called ‘avial’. It’s a 13-vegetable curry. I can relate my career to avial.”
At the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Sreejesh starred in Indian’s gold medal win, when he saved two attempts in a shoot-out against Pakistan in the final. At the 2014 and 2018 Champions Trophy, he was adjudged “Goalkeeper of the Tournament”.
At this stage of his career, Sreejesh prefers short targets.
“As a youngster, I always used to plan for four years. Now, I always prefer short-term goals. Now my priority is CWG, then my next step is World Cup for sure. When you are keeping short targets that always helps you to focus more on your performance, fitness and mental strength.”
So he basically plans to carry on till the Paris Olympics.
“Looking forward, Paris is feasible. I can see the Eiffel Tower but that road is not going to be easy. I believe these small steps will help me reach there,” the lanky goalkeeper said.
“Another Commonwealth Games is a tricky one because in another four years, I don’t think I will be able to sustain (my fitness) but who knows there you can see me as a coach.”
Sreejesh believes goalkeepers are like vintage wine, which gets better with age, as he reflected on his illustrious career, where he started by warming the bench and went on to become one of the best in the world.
He said the setbacks in the early part of his career taught him lessons to use failures as building blocks for success.
“When I started my career, I used to concede a lot of goals. The best part of a goalkeeper is that when you are the second choice, you get to gain a lot of experience by sitting outside and watching. I learned the game by watching the likes of Devesh Chauhan, Adrian D’Souza, Bharat Chettri.
“Over a period, I had seniors, who corrected me and covered for me. If I would have been drafted straightaway in the main team, I would have finished by now because the pressure is too high at the international level and youngster might find it difficult to handle at the onset,” Sreejesh said.
“That’s why we always say goalkeepers get better as they get older. Goalkeepers are like vintage wine because with age, their maturity level goes high, their pressure-handling gets better and they take decisions wisely.”
Talking about the upcoming CWG, Sreejesh believes India have the potential to finish on the podium but overcoming the mighty Australians would be key in deciding the colour of the medal.
“The team is capable of reaching the final for sure. The way we are performing, we can definitely come up with a better result than 2014. But it’s about how you are handling that particular day when you are playing the semifinal and final. Definitely, this team is capable of finishing on the podium,” he said.
“Australia is one of the best teams in the world. We saw their performance in the Tokyo Olympics as well. So it’s not going to be really easy to beat them but the way our team is performing now we are confident of giving them a tough competition. We are not going to make it easy for any team,” he signed off.