Indian hockey team captain PR Sreejesh drew inspiration from Kerala flood victim after defeat to Malaysia
A video of a 75-year-old victim of Kerala floods, saying she would rise again despite losing her house, inspired India captain PR Sreejesh after the semis defeat to Malaysia at the Asian Games.
Having seen Indian hockey team's dream of retaining the Asian Games gold medal dashed by Malaysia — cruelly via penalty shootouts in the semi-finals — team captain PR Sreejesh says he drew motivation from a septuagenarian victim of the devastating floods which struck his home state of Kerala last month.
The Kerala floods led to 483 people losing their lives, while scores were displaced from their homes. One such victim became a viral sensation when a video of her recounting the horrors of the floods surfaced on social media. In the video, the woman goes on to say that she had lost her house to the floods — said to be the worst the southern state has faced in a century — but vowed to rise up stronger.
The video, Sreejesh says, helped strengthen his resolve in time for the bronze medal playoff against Pakistan two days after the semi-final defeat to Malaysia.
"I was in my room right after the defeat to Malaysia when I saw the video. The woman, who was speaking in Malayalam, was maybe 75 or 76 years of age. She said she had lost her house in the floods, but added that she will not give up. She said she will show the world by standing on her feet again. So I thought to myself, if that woman, who had no cause for hope left in her life, can think like that, why can't we? What I found incredible is that she said she will raise double of what she has lost in the floods. What was even more remarkable was that she wasn't crying in the video, she was saying everything with a quiet firmness in her voice.
"So I thought why can't we do that too? Mere paas toh sab kuch hai! (I still have everything!) Yes, we lost a match. But, all was not lost, there was still a bronze medal to be won," Sreejesh told reporters on Friday on the sidelines of an event to unveil the new jersey for the Indian team.
Sreejesh admitted that the Indian team was heartbroken after the Malaysia defeat.
"But just one question was enough for the players to bounce back from that defeat. Khaali haath ghar jaana hai ya kuch leke (You want to return home empty-handed or with a medal?)" the goalkeeper said, "I told the players just one thing: if you want to cry, you can cry at home too. We had a match in two days. So we went about doing the things we do between matches, like recovery. We wanted to prove that the Malaysia result was just a bad day in office. We proved the same thing throughout the tournament. Even in the bronze medal play-off, we played well and won. The fact that we won the play-off against Pakistan, shows that we're good enough. Right?"
The win against Pakistan in the bronze medal play-off will take some sting off the loss, but should they have won gold, the Indian team would have also sealed a quota for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. What's more alarming is the fact that once again, it was a goal in the dying minutes of a match which sealed India's fate.
"These things should not happen in such high intensity games. We have to show our character and personality at times like these," said national team coach Harendra Singh, who added, "We sat down as a team, till about 1:30 or 2:00 am, after the loss. It was hard to get out of the room and to get out of that mood. But that bronze medal match was one of the most important things in our lives. We had let go of the disappointment of the Malaysia match and get ready for the bronze medal match in 48 hours. Something is better than nothing. Finishing fourth would have been worse for Indian hockey. That’s where these boys showed heart, coming back to win the bronze."
Harendra said that India's problems were mostly mental.
"This current Indian team is far better than any other team, with regards to skill and fitness. The thin margin between winning and losing is mental. We have to change our thinking. We need to see how to keep possession, what to do when. Mental fitness is important in crunch situations," he said.
However, when asked if the team need a psychologist on international events as suggested by India's High Performance Director David John in the aftermath of the defeat, Harendra said, "That's a word everyone in the world has been looking at, 'psychologist!' But for any team, the biggest psychologist is the coach, and then the player himself. If you can't motivate yourself, then nobody in the world can motivate you. The players need answers from themselves for their emotions during a match which leads them to commit mistakes. If someone could control his emotions in the first four matches, then why did he lose control over them in the last match? That's a question if I ask myself I'll get the answer. That's the best way rather than asking help of a psychologist, who has no clue about the team, who has no clue about sports, who has no clue about the players' outlook.
"Players have to be the biggest critic of themselves. Yes, an outsider can lend a different perspective, but in that case why hire a psychologist? Anybody who can motivate, point out mistakes and give inputs can help the team! The word 'psychologist' gives off a negative connotation," said Harendra.
While dismissing the notion that the team had become complacent with heavy wins over teams like Indonesia (17-0), Hong Kong (26-0) and Japan (8-0), Harendra admitted the issue was that the players were unable to control their emotions.
"Complacency? That word doesn’t exist in my dictionary. If you see, even against Malaysia, we had 39 circle penetrations, 24 shots on goal, not to mention 56 percent ball possession. It wasn’t about complacency. That 1-and-a-half minute at the end was what you can call a nightmare. Through the tournament we had 519 circle penetrations, 114 shots on goal. It shows the depth of the team’s attacking talent. But how to protect the lead when you are 2-1 up, that’s something we need to work on.
"I also don’t agree that we slowed down by the end against Malaysia. That’s not the mentality of this team. We were in the driving seat. If we had slowed down, Malaysia would have scored a lot more goals. But if we want to play fast and furious hockey, there has to be a structure in place. In that last few minutes we should have been defensive, and we were lacking. That’s where we have to learn to control our emotions," said the national team coach.
The team's captain, Sreejesh, agreed.
"You can't say our defeat was due to a technical thing. Somewhere it's a cultural thing also. One of our foreign coaches had even told us that we're all grandma's sons. We start complaining about everything. Our culture has taught us that you find out a reason for everything. You're not searching for a solution, you're searching for a reason. We have to change that mentality and we're changing it. It won't happen overnight, that takes time especially if it's mentality related. Fitness you can gain in a few months. But mentality you develop through experience."
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