Jun 8, 2014

Sreejesh starting to shine

With the final group round robin stages of the World Cup at the Hague well under way, India are quietly having a revival in play since the days they dominated the international scene many moons ago. And their success would not be possible without the solid performances of their goalkeeper providing strength at the back for his team to push forward. Ever since Adrian D’Souza lost his way and his place in the national team, India has struggled to find consistency in goal and someone to turn to in order to come away with a win.

Without a goalkeeper to put their confidence in, the team cannot move forward and chase the elusive ambition of being a highly ranked hockey nation again, so with Sreejesh  in goal and playing as well as he has, it would seem India finally have found the solution to their goalkeeping woes. India has been rotating goalkeepers for quite a few years and with Sreejesh developing strongly, coaching staff and fans alike can breathe easy and sleep well knowing he will be there to help India to victory game in, game out.

Sreejesh in action in the Super 9's Series

A lot of India goalkeepers in recent years have struggled with the more technical aspects of goalkeeping. And without strong foundations to work from, save making and moving into position for the follow-up can be tricky. But Sreejesh is clearly focusing on this element of his game and with the help of well known goalie coach Martijn Driver, has been working on ironing out his technical approach to the position.  

The job of an elite goalkeeper is to be able to do the basics well so as not to allow easy goals, but also to make those top drawer saves that stop sure-fire goals being scored against their team. And Sreejesh has performed admirably. A lot of his saves have come from this solid technical grounding, as seen against England, where he covered well against a tricky shot above ground height to his near post. He also pulled off a highlight reel save to stop a drag flick at the PC, being unfortunate with the reach of extension to put the rebound back into play for a certain goal.

At 0:36 in his FIH ‘Saves of the day’ worthy save, you can see him make a great stick save to push away an otherwise sure goal. What makes the save more noteworthy is the reflex based reactions needed and the stick being a smaller blocking surface, but the technicality of the save shows a great technical foundation to actively push out with the right hand on an attacking angle and pushing the redirect away to safety.

Since a goalkeeper is not going to help his team out generally in the scoring department, the role of the goalkeeper is to keep the score as low as possible in those difficult games. And this is something Sreejesh has been showing great aptitude at. Take this four save shot sequence against India where he saves, recovers well to shut down space aggressively, and saves again. He was very unfortunate not to come away with a clean sheet but this level of desire and ‘fight’ for his team mates will prove crucial in major tournaments like this in years to come.

But one thing that never sticks out about goalkeepers, or looks ‘good on paper’ so to speak, is the mental game of a goalkeeper. For the team to be able to attack up the pitch without self doubt and worrying about defending all game long, they need a strong goalkeeper. And that goalkeeper needs self belief and , for their team to win; if they crumble . And the action at this stage of the World Cup has seen goalkeepers implode and run ‘hot and cold’ in performances, which really affects the team performance (leading to losses, and also worse goal difference in the group standings). Take South Africa’s Pieterse who has been playing great against the tougher teams and then self destructs the next game. Or Cortes for Spain who struggled against Belgium but put in a cracking performance against Australia.

If the goalkeeper plays well and goes about his job properly, then no-one realises. However, should they perform poorly; commentators will come out of hiding, and come out swinging as they do (throwing analytical punches too!). And Sreejesh’s game approach and his aura of self confidence just go to show where his game ‘is at’ at the moment. A goalkeeper who dwells on their mistakes can only perform negatively, so this is very important for him.

And ultimately with Sreejesh finally looking like a solid number one for India, the future is bright for India and who knows what could happen!

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