Both seasoned players have steered the teams to the semifinals, thwarting oppositions, soaking up the pressure and motivating their teammates. While they go about protecting their respective citadels, they are bound by the common fibre of Olympic glory.
As individuals, Sreejesh and Savita are as different as chalk and cheese. Off the field, Sreejesh, 35, is a born prankster and a man who enjoys the company of books the most. Savita, on the other hand, is soft-spoken and shy. The 29-year-old’s stressbuster is Hindi music.
On the field, they display a similar kind of controlled aggression. The similarity does not end there. They have both trained without specialised goalkeeping coaches for a couple of years now.
While former Indian goalkeeper Bharat Chetri helped out Savita until his sudden exit in late 2019, Dutchman Dennis van de Pol has been the stopgap consultant for the men’s team, but his training went virtual in September last year due to Covid-19.
The duo, while mentoring younger goalkeepers in the team, have also been there for each other. As both teams spent 15 months at the Sports Authority of India centre in Bengaluru, Sreejesh and Savita discussed their skill sets, training and fears as custodians, who have no place to hide when they make a mistake.
In fact, Sreejesh is Savita’s favourite goalkeeper. In an interview with TOI, Savita, who hails from Jodhkan village in Sirsa, Haryana, had said, “Sreejesh has always been one of my favourite players. Even when he was injured he showed so much positivity.”
The helping hand Sreejesh offered has held Savita in good stead.
“We used come to the ground to watch Sree bhai, just before our training session. He gave us a lot of valuable tips, watched videos of our matches and highlighted my mistakes,” Savita had pointed out.
Sreejesh, on the other hand, has worked on his skills all by himself. Speaking about chiselling his game in the build-up to the Olympics, he had said, “Since 2012, we have had only consultant coaches. They fine-tuned my basics. I started watching my own videos, rectifying mistakes and talking to our coaches. But there is a limit to self-learning but the past 8-9 years have helped me become self-reliant.”
Two goalkeepers, two goals and one direction. That’s the story of India’s custodians, Sreejesh and Savita.