It's a tournament that catapulted PR Sreejesh into the spotlight as his stunning saves against Pakistan in a penalty shootout helped India triumph in the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy tournament at Ordos, China in 2011. Five years on, Sreejesh, now regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, led India to their second Asian Champions Trophy crown on Sunday
It's a tournament that catapulted PR Sreejesh into the spotlight as his stunning saves against Pakistan in a penalty shootout helped India triumph in the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy tournament at Ordos, China in 2011. Five years on, Sreejesh, now regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, led India to their second Asian Champions Trophy crown on Sunday.
Even though he had little part to play in the final as a torn hamstring ruled him out of the game, the Indian captain is delighted at his team's achievement. "India won and that's most important. It is irrelevant whether I played or not. Obviously, I wanted to play but doctors advised me not to aggravate my injury. It's a proud moment for me as it is my first title as captain. The win is the result of teamwork. This victory is for our soldiers. Many of them would have missed their Diwali guarding our borders. It's the best we could do for them," the Indian captain told TOI from Kuala Lumpur on Monday.
India missed the services of a few of their regulars in the tournament including drag-flicker VR Raghunath, but had players who stepped up and performed admirably. The skipper is pleased with the conversion rate in penalty corners with Rupinder Pal Singh emerging as the tournament's highest goalscorer.
"Rupinder was outstanding and his success rate augurs well for the team. But let's give credit to the others involved in the process - the pushers and the stoppers," he said.
Though Sreejesh feels that India could have done better than a quarterfinal appearance in Rio Olympics, the 30-year-old reckons that the Asian Games gold medal in 2014 and the victory in Malaysia now has made them the best team of Asia. But he thinks that the team needs to improve a lot to emerge as world beaters.
"Undoubtedly, we are the best in Asia. The hard work we have put in the last five years has made us more consistent. Our target is to become world's best. But the European level is a few notches above the Asian level. If we have to reach that level, we have to play them consistently and our game will improve even further. We should aim to win bigger titles - the Champions Trophy, Hockey World League, World Cup and Olympics. We are on the right track but we need to work even harder to beat top sides like Australia, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. And this group is willing to put in those extra yards," said Sreejesh.
One of the key reasons for India's excellent performance in the recent past is the role played by chief hockey coach Roelant Oltmans. The Indian captain gave the Dutchman's work ethic a big thumbs-up.
"The biggest quality about Roelant is his understanding. He understands the game really well and makes changes according to situations. He understands the players really well and tries to get the best out of them. Moreover, in the last few years, he has been able to develop a core group of players. His faith and perseverance in them are paying off," Sreejesh said as he prepared to go for treatment on his injured leg.
The injury is likely to keep him out of action for at least a month.