Sreejesh waits for Tamil Nadu pat

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P.R. Sreejesh is an asset to the senior national hockey team. The goalkeeper who is employed with Indian Overseas Bank in Chennai has a sturdy body and a stout heart.

Whether it is former India coach Jose Brasa or current boss Michael Nobbs, everyone has an abiding faith in the abilities of Sreejesh.

A spirited performer, Sreejesh always brings out his best when the chips are down or the opposition is Pakistan.

Brasa picked him — when few thought he would — for India’s opener against Pakistan at the 2010 World Cup. Sreejesh didn’t disappoint him, as he came up with a sterling performance to thwart the Pakistanis.

At the Asian Champions Trophy last year, Nobbs selected Sreejesh ahead of the more experienced Bharat Chhetri for India’s final against … who else … Pakistan.

The ebullient goalkeeper was once again in his element. He stood like a rock in the shootout to help India pocket the gold.

Impressed by the ability of Sreejesh to deliver under pressure, Nobbs preferred him in the Olympic qualifier final against France earlier this year.

The result was a thumping 8-1 win for India and another commanding performance from the custodian.

Sreejesh has sealed a place in the Olympics squad and he stands a good chance of starting in India’s goal at the London Games.

Members of the Indian team have been showered with cash prizes by their respective state governments ever since the Champions Trophy triumph.

Recently the Maharashtra government awarded forward Shivendra Singh Rs 15 lakh for being a part of the Olympic squad. Haryana has made drag-flicker Sandeep Singh richer by almost Rs 50 lakh in the last one year.

What has Sreejesh got from Tamil Nadu? Nothing. The national hero has no takers in his state. “There was not even a congratulatory message after the Olympic qualifier. Recognition is vital for sportspersons.

I feel hurt that my achievements with the national team have been ignored in Tamil Nadu. Words can’t express my agony,” said the goalkeeper, who also won a bronze medal at the Champions Challenge tournament in South Africa last year and this year’s Sultan Azlan Shah championship in Malaysia.

Sreejesh was born in Kerala but he has been employed with IOB since 2006. “From 2006, I have been playing for Tamil Nadu.

In the Premier Hockey League, I appeared for the Chennai team. I have also led Tamil Nadu at the national championship. What more should I do to get recognised in my state?” he asked.

Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu secretary Renuka Lakshmi said all the letters she receives from the national body clearly mention that Sreejesh is a Tamil Nadu player.

“Even the communication regarding his selection for the London Olympics says that he belongs to Tamil Nadu. In sports, the place where the players concerned are employed is considered their home state,” she said.

The Karnataka government never fails to include Chhetri in its awardees’ list, even though the goalkeeper was born in West Bengal.

“As Chhetri is working for Canara Bank in Bengaluru, he is always considered a Karnataka player. I feel bad because I’m the only player in the current Indian squad not to get any benefit from the home state,” Sreejesh said.

Md. Riaz, also from Chennai, has been a key member of Nobbs’ team as an assistant coach from the time the Australian took charge.

He is also hoping that Tamil Nadu will notice his work. Drag-flick specialist and IOB player Rupinderpal Singh, a member of the Indian squad at the Olympic qualifiers, hasn’t got anything either.

Sreejesh and Renuka say they have submitted petitions to the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu. The player even met the SDAT general manager after winning the Champions Trophy gold. But no action has been taken so far.

Tamil Nadu has always been in the forefront of sports development and chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s passion for sports is well known. Sreejesh’s last hope is the chief minister, who is a pioneer in supporting sportspersons.

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