In Sreejesh we believe: Skipper Manpreet speaks about goalie’s influence on team

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The Indian hockey team are being considered as serious medal contenders and one of the prime reason for that is the flamboyant Kerala custodian’s presence.

“He (Sreejesh) keeps motivating me…he gives me confidence and also to the team. In fact, we all have the confidence that we have Sreejesh in goal,” Manpreet said during the virtual media interaction of the Tokyo bound squad.

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While COVID-19 did rob them of quality game time in the last year save a tour of Argentina, Manpreet feels that the core squad being the same for years is an advantage going into their biggest event.

“Actually, in the last three-four years, we have had the same team. The strikers are experienced. They have been doing well, that’s why they have been picked. Our striker line will play an important role and score goals.”

For Manpreet, it is his third Olympics and for many others, it’s the second tie at the quadrennial extravaganza that has enabled the team to gell so well.

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“It is my third Olympics. A great honour when you are representing your country at the Olympics. Also, I am really excited, as a captain. We have an experienced side with the likes of Harmanpreet (Singh), Birendra Lakra, Rupinderpal, etc..We are all excited for the Olympics,” he added.

The Covid-19 enforced break didn’t dampen their spirits even though the Olympics was postponed last year. “Our performances in the last few years have been good. At the beginning of 2020 we were playing well, we beat good teams. Unfortunately, COVID-19 happened, there was a lockdown and we were in Bengaluru.

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“We were training (in Bengaluru) and the Olympics got cancelled. We decided that we have to take it positively. How to work on our game and keep improving…,” Manpreet said.

Birendra Lakra, who missed out on the Rio Olympics, was excited about the upcoming Tokyo Games and is very happy with the kind of camaraderie that the team shared.

“Yeah… I missed the last Olympics due to an injury. I was given a chance in a six-nation tournament in Spain ahead of the Rio (Olympics) but I was not as fit as I should have been. “After that, I did work hard to make a comeback. From the coaching staff to teammates, everyone helped me. They ensured that I do not feel left alone. It took time for me to work my way back.”

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Being one of the vice-captains, the other being Harmanpreet Singh, Lakra is ready to shoulder additional responsibility as a senior player. “There is a lot of responsibility. Senior players are there… there are experienced players also. In the last Olympics also, the team’s performance was good. You would have seen in the last one year and more, the (team’s) performances have been good.

“Due to COVID there was a disturbance, however, we have trained in Bengaluru. Players have kept themselves motivated though we have not been able to play many matches due to the Covid restrictions,” he added.

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Defender Harmanpreet, who will be featuring in his second Olympics, said there would be greater responsibility now as deputy to Manpreet, adding that he had learnt a lot and the understanding was better.

“In 2016, there was not much pressure because I was a young player. There were experienced players…I learnt from them. Now, I am experienced, there are responsibilities now and the understanding is better.”

To a question on the possible advantage Asian teams could have in Tokyo with regard to weather conditions, he said the team was training keeping that in mind. “We are practising in the afternoons. We are training keeping in mind the weather conditions and the intensity needed.”

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