Even as Hockey India has announced the 20-member national men’s team for the upcoming Asian Champions Trophy to be held at Dhaka from December 14-22, the biggest buzz that has been generated about the omission of first-choice and vastly experienced goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. One does not want to know whether the seasoned goalkeeper from Kerala is rested or dropped but one thing is clear – the team think-tank and the national selectors have make an honest attempt to look at the future and induct two goalkeepers – Krishan Bahadur Pathak and Suraj Karkera – who have been serving as Sreejesh’s understudy over the recent years.
Save for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Krishan Bahadur Pathak has been part of the national team whenever the squad featured two goalkeepers. Pathak was in the national side for 2020-21 Pro Hockey League matches against the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, and Argentina as well as the tour of Europe earlier this year. Pathak, who made his senior international debut at the 2018 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, has been in the national reckoning for the past three years or so.
It’s a comeback of sorts for Suraj Karkera, who made his senior international debut at the 2017 Europe tour. Karkera had last represented India at the 2019 Olympic Test Event at Tokyo – the last time when both Pathak and Karkera were included in the national side and Sreejesh was rested or dropped whatever way one want to look at it. Sans Sreejesh, Pathak and Karkera gave a good account of themselves as India won the tournament thrashing New Zealand 5-0 in the final.
The duo of Pathak and Karkera also did goalkeeping duties in the absence of Sreejesh for the national team at the 2018 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the 2018 Test Series against South Korea at home. Pathak and Karkera have gained substantial international exposure as well – Pathak has played in the 2018 World Cup, 2018 Champions Trophy and 2018 Asian Games in some form even though Sreejesh obviously being the first-choice goalie had more game time. Karkera had also featured in the 2017 Asia Cup and 2017 Hockey World League Final Round and both should be ready to serve the national team across all tourneys. The move of the Indian think-tank must be lauded even as the bigger question of whether Sreejesh is rested or dropped awaits clarity.