PR Sreejesh and Manpreet Singh – Passion unlimited as the duo head into fourth Olympics

Manpreet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, PR Sreejesh (Image: Hockey India)

This must be one of the rare moments in Indian hockey where two former captains, PR Sreejesh and Manpreet Singh, are in the 16-member squad for the Paris Olympics purely as players under Harmanpreet Singh. More important, the two stars who were once commanders are playing their fourth Olympics in a row, which is a big feat.

There are emotions always around Indian hockey, be it failure or success. Just that, after winning a historic bronze medal in Tokyo three years ago, expectations have risen. Fans of Indian hockey have always demanded medals, like the “dil maange more” slogan. Sure enough, the gold medal win at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, last year, ensured the Indians made the cut for the Paris Olympics in style.

Yes, with 29 days to go for the Olympics, what’s in store for Indian men’s hockey? Plenty of good, as fans and purists expect the best from a side which has a rich mix of experience and five fresh faces. What is unique about Sreejesh is how the boy-turned man from Kerala, is still relevant to Indian hockey. Always smiling, a family man to the core, he embraces success and failure with the same ease. It’s easy to say a goalkeeper has a longer shelf life, as they are at the back.

Come on, to be the custodian of a nation like India on the hockey pitch is a big deal. Agility, reflexes, reaction time and above all, still keeping fit is what ensures Sreejesh being a cut above the rest. That the selection committee in Hockey India has imposed faith in just one goalkeeper for Paris speaks volumes about Sreejesh, who has done his job so passionately for years. When he was there in London 2012 and Rio 2016, the results were atrocious. 

No, it was not Sreejesh’s fault that India did badly. He could have easily packed his heavy clothes and gear needed for being a “keeper” and walked away. For most Indian hockey players, the sport is a “nasha” as they say in the North of India. Sreejesh has been as much a South Indian as a Punjabi, since the Indian team is an amalgam of players from all states.  The joke in the old days was, if you did not know Punjabi, you would be a misfit in the Indian hockey team. No, Sreejesh has no such problems with language! The language he is most proficient in is hockey, as a goalkeeper. To say that Sreejesh is daring may be too much, but in terms of safety, his coordination skills are sublime.


What does one say of Manpreet, the winning captain from Tokyo who is happy to be just contributing to the team? This is his simplicity, this is his best contribution, ready to join the youngsters and be a team-man to the core. Manpreet has seen enough controversies in his life, some for no rhyme or reason as well, over his marriage to a Malaysian. That he has been able to keep all that aside and function as a player with flair and skill in the concept of modern hockey is very important.

Maybe, in the good old days, when Indian hockey was about prima-donnas, the players would be reluctant to give up captaincy. Someone like Pargat Singh or Dhanraj Pillay had that air about themselves as they were captains. They did play great roles for Indian hockey but when compared to Sreejesh and Manpreet, no way.

Manpreet has said in recent interviews, now well into his early 30s, he is not going to give up so easily. He has said he would like to continue as long as possible. Paris is not his last stop! Come on, four Olympics, plus the Asian Games and so many more international competitions, this Sardar loves hockey. And if someone is going to say, Sreejesh and Manpreet are there in the sport for money, please don’t believe it.

It is love for hockey, passion to win medals for India and wanting to be relevant even now, Sreejesh and Manpreet are two pillars of Indian hockey. Younger players may have tried shaking them, no use. The selectors and coach Craig Fulton are well aware, he has in Sreejesh and Manpreet, two strategists as well, in a team sport which has changed so much. The hockey India played in 2012 London was different. In this day and age, heading into Paris 2024, Sreejesh and Manpreet are the true rock stars who are still relevant to Indian hockey. A fourth Olympics is not just a piece of statistics!