Goalkeepers, like fine wine, age with time -- PR Sreejesh. This tweet, posted by the official handle of Indian hockey not that long ago, sits well with India’s upcoming goalkeeping sensation Krishan Pathak.
It’s not often that an Indian shot-stopper manages to eclipse his much-celebrated and high-profile compatriot PR Sreejesh. The Kerala man, for long, has been the bulwark on which the Indian hockey team has often scripted it’s most memorable wins.
But against the world champions Belgium in their FIH Pro League matches a few weeks back, PR Sreejesh was often the afterthought as a little-unknown Krishan Pathak stepped up and delivered an inspired performance that had many in awe.
Sharing the responsibilities with his senior pro, the Indian hockey goalkeepers thwarted aside a barrage of shots from the Belgians, with Krishan Pathak often taking the limelight with his quick reactions and sensible positioning that helped him close the attacker’s angle.
“I don’t think we did anything different for the Belgium matches,” says Krishan Pathak talking about the Belgium tie to the Olympic Channel. “It’s about sticking to the basics. We have a plan, and all we try to do is follow the routine. There was nothing special. We stuck to our plan and that worked.
“Moreover, I did well against the Dutch as well. That gave me enough confidence to go out there and perform the way I did against Belgium.
"On the day, I think it’s the first touch. That first kick of the ball. If that’s perfect then I am sure that I will have a great day. In the Belgium game, that first save was good," he pointed out.
For a man who’s often found warming the bench with PR Sreejesh commanding the Indian hockey goal, Krishan Pathak has been pleasantly surprised over the past few months.
Graham Reid testing the waters
But the team management, in an attempt to test every player, has seen throwing the reserve goalkeepers into the deep end too often than not.
Be it the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup or the Olympic qualifiers, chief coach Graham Reid hasn’t shied from letting the second-choice ’keepers take the goal in crunch situations. But Krishan Pathak isn’t complaining. “I believe these things matter a lot for an upcoming ’keeper,” he says.
“I am happy that they are giving me opportunities. All I have to do is be ready every time I am called upon. I know I have to prove my worth every time I am asked to step out. Every time you are on the bench, you always have that hunger to prove yourself. I am happy I am not left waiting for long.”
It’ was one such swap that saw Krishan Pathak take the goal in an all-important shoot-out in the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup last year.
Against South Korea, though he managed a save to give the Indian hockey team some hope after the attackers had failed, it’s Lee Nam-Yong’s audacious attempt, the final shot of the match, that has stayed with him for long.
An outrageous attempt that saw the South Korean captain take the ball on to his stick and lob it over the Indian goalkeeper behind his back. “That was something extraordinary for me,” recollects Krishan Pathak, unable to control his laughter.
“I was like, ‘What is this guy even trying to do?’ But hats off to him for pulling that off. It was viral on social media for a long while. It’s a great moment to look back and have a laugh. Such things are part of the game.”
Krishan Pathak believes that such moments have been a learning experience for him. Ever since joining the senior team post the 2016 FIH Junior World Cup triumph, 22-year-old from Kapurthala in Punjab has steadily managed to rise up the ranks to be the understudy to PR Sreejesh.
Krishan Pathak and the PR Sreejesh influence
Training and playing alongside a goalkeeper of his stature, Krishan Pathak’s says has helped him improve his skill sets as well. “There’s a lot one can learn from someone like Sreejesh bhai. He’s been playing at the highest level for so many years, and that reflects in our training sessions as well.
“I have improved as a ’keeper in the last four years and that down to the things I have gathered and learnt watching people like Sreejesh and others play and train on a daily basis. That’s the thing about playing and training with the best in the world. And in Sreejesh we have one of the best goalkeepers in the world with us.”
With the 2020 Olympics fast approaching, the opportunities to prove himself might reduce in the coming months. But Krishan Pathak might just have done enough to give the selectors a headache as they gather to name the Indian squad for Tokyo 2020.
But if the man himself is to be believed, he isn’t bothered much. For he thinks he’s done his bit, now the ball is in the selectors’ half -- probably another trait he’s picked up from the ever-so-jovial PR Sreejesh.