STOCK MARKET BSE NSE

Pitch perfect: Sreejesh and Rupinder's journey from Tamil Nadu to Tokyo

Both of them were employed by Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) in Chennai in their formative years and even played for Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu (HUTN) in a few national tournaments.

Published: 10th August 2021 09:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th August 2021 09:35 AM   |  A+A-

India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh reacts while sitting on the goal after India defeated Germany 5-4 during the men's field hockey bronze medal match at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh reacts while sitting on the goal after India defeated Germany 5-4 during the men's field hockey bronze medal match at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Even as Indians rejoice and revel at the men’s hockey team winning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics — the country’s first medal in hockey since winning gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics — there is a little bit of trivia about Tamil Nadu that will not sit well with ardent followers of hockey in the state.

It was the first time in independent India’s history that a medal-winning side did not contain even one player hailing from Tamil Nadu.

Old-timers can hark back to a robust tradition of hockey in the state, which resulted in a steady production line of players of the calibre of V Baskaran, VJ Peter, Ranganathan Francis and Muneer Sait to name a few.

There has been a talent drain in recent years and efforts need to be made at the grassroots, but Tamil Nadu can take solace from the fact that it played a hand in the development of two senior players in the Tokyo contingent: PR Sreejesh and Rupinder Pal Singh.

Both of them were employed by Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) in Chennai in their formative years and even played for Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu (HUTN) in a few national tournaments.

A formidable find

In 2006, Sreejesh, a teenager of already considerable promise by then, was spotted by H Arif, manager of the IOB hockey team.

Arif was tasked with assembling some of the country’s best young talents to make IOB a formidable force in national-level meets.

And the moment his eyes fell on Sreejesh, a fresh-faced youngster bristling with exuberance, Arif was convinced that the goalkeeper was worth recruiting.

“Sreejesh was already in the junior national camp when I first saw him. He was very raw at the time, but we decided to recruit him. He progressed well in his years with IOB,” Arif reminisces.

A sense of pride is apparent in Arif’s voice when he talks about a prediction that he had made back in 2011.

“I remember telling Sreejesh in 2011 or around that time that he will go on to represent India in 3 or 4 Olympics,” informs Arif, in the safe knowledge that he wasn’t wrong.

While Sreejesh eventually left IOB in 2015 to take up a Kerala government job, he continues to have a strong association with the TN hockey federation.

He is still registered with Hockey India (HI) as a player of HUTN. It perhaps engendered a complex relationship for Sreejesh with fans in his home state of Kerala, but the 33-year-old has maintained that his continued association with TN is simply his way to acknowledge their efforts in shaping his career.

“Sreejesh would often tell us that Tamil Nadu has given him his bread and butter. He has always tried to help out when he can,” HUTN general secretary M Renuka reveals.

Even last year, when the Covid pandemic had begun wreaking havoc, Sreejesh was able to find time from his hectic schedule to conduct a few online coaching sessions for TN’s young players and pass on his experience and wisdom.

The reluctant rising star

Rupinder, tall and of sturdy build, caught the attention of IOB a couple of years after Sreejesh, during one of those visits that Arif used to make to Gwalior for the India Gold Cup. And, like Sreejesh, Rupinder’s ability — even if the rough edges had to be polished — was there to see from the outset.

“Rupinder was a guest player for the IOC at the India Gold Cup in 2008. That is where I saw him and sensed his talent. When we requested him, he was a bit reluctant. But we managed to convince him to join. Rupinder’s ability as a drag-flicker stood out even back then,” recalls the 58-year-old, whose tenure as manager of IOB spanned more than a decade.

The zenith of Arif’s reign was IOB’s march to the final of the prestigious MCC-Murugappa Cup in Chennai in 2014.

While they lost in the final to Indian Oil Corporation, it remains the only instance of IOB reaching the Murugappa final. And, well, there was current India captain Manpreet Singh too, having joined IOB as a guest player for that tournament.

Both Sreejesh and Rupinder will now be etched in the national consciousness as members of the team that revived the country’s proud Olympic record.

It is down to their drive and hunger, of course, but IOB and TN’s hockey fraternity can afford to be satisfied with the small roles they have played.

OLYMPICS_BANNER1



Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

edexworks
flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp