There is never a shortage of discussion among hockey lovers on the Indian men hockey team’s dependence on goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. To be fair to Sreejesh, he has consistently been a class act under the Indian cage and even his staunchest critics, if they at all exist, would find it hard to pick holes in his performance graph – he has been simply outstanding over the last few years or so – at 33, his goalkeeping has been at his best. Since making his debut at the 2006 South Asian Games (SAG) in Colombo, Sreejesh has been a fulcrum around which the team revolves.
His awesome goalkeeping performance makes us wonder whether India need to break a sweat over building a second line of goalkeepers, who can take over the mantle from him. The likes of Krishan Bahadur Pathak and Suraj Karkera have served as reserve goalkeepers to Sreejesh in various international competitions, but it remains to be seen how sooner they can seamlessly step into Sreejesh’s shoes.
Former Olympian goalkeeper Jude Menezes reckons Sreejesh still has a lot to offer to the team. “I believe Sreejesh is in the best form of his life and can play on at least until the 2023 World Cup. Most goalkeepers generally mature with age because with experience and international exposure their decision-making improves. You start learning the nuances of the game and start understanding the threats better. The most important aspect to consider is performance and not age. As long as he is fit and is playing well, that’s the only thing that should matter,” he says in an exclusive interview with Hockey Passion from Auckland, New Zealand.
Menezes, who had played in two World Cups (1998 & 2002) as well as the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was all praise for reserve goalkeepers Krishan Pathak and Suraj Karkera. “I have watched Pathak and Karkera closely and they both are very talented. They must be given adequate international exposure and that is the only way to gain experience and learn how to respond to pressure situations. It won’t be a bad idea at all to send them to play in European leagues as they will get much-required game time and come richer with the experience. The Pro League is a great opportunity to provide these stop-stoppers some game time against the best teams in the world,” he observes.
Menezes, who had migrated to New Zealand in 2002 after calling time on his international career, and had served as Assistant Coach of the New Zealand women’s hockey team at the Tokyo Olympics, is of the opinion that Pathak can do a good job in case Sreejesh is unavailable. “Pathak has done well with whatever opportunities he has got and is ready to take over from Sreejesh even now if Sreejesh retires or gets injured. Suraj, too, is promising and needs some games under his belt to improve further.”
The former Indian goalkeeper, who hails from Mumbai, has no doubts that Sreejesh ranks among the world’s best goalkeepers with the likes of Australia’s Andrew Charter, Belgium’s Vincent Vascent, or even Argentina’s just-retired goalie Juan ManueVivaldi. “Sreejesh has developed into a world-class goalkeeper – the way he marshals his defence is remarkable. The Hockey India League has helped upped his game tremendously as playing big matches regularly improved his belief and confidence. As I mentioned earlier, goalkeepers get only better with age and experience and India kept persisting with Sreejesh and it has paid off. Experience helps decision-making and I believe that goalkeepers realise that “Less is more” in goalkeeping. The focus should be to keep the ball out of the cage and no one cares how you do it,” he signs off.