Mumbai lad Suraj Karkera makes it to senior India hockey team

Jul 29, 2017, 18:41 IST | Ashwin Ferro

Mumbai hockey may not be in the best of health at the moment, but there's one bright spark that promises to spurt into a bigger flame

Goalkeeper Suraj Karkera

Mumbai hockey may not be in the best of health at the moment, but there's one bright spark that promises to spurt into a bigger flame.

Goalkeeper Suraj Karkera, 21, yesterday became Mumbai's latest contribution to the senior India hockey team when he got picked in the 18-member, Manpreet Singh-led line-up for the Europe Tour of Belgium and Netherlands beginning August 9. India will play five matches in their Europe Tour -- August 9, 10 against Belgium, August 13,14, 16 against the Netherlands.

Karkera along with five FIH Junior World Cup heroes, Varun Kumar, Dipsan Tirkey, Nilakanta Sharma, Gurjant Singh and Armaan Qureshi will be making their debut as Hockey India decided to rest some key senior players, who were part of India's poor FIH Hockey World League Semi-finals campaign in London (June 15-25).

For Karkera, it has been a long and painful wait. Picked by Mumbai hockey's most famous servant of the game, Marzban 'Bawa' Patel, Karkera first plied his trade for Children's Academy School (Malad) in MSSA's inter-school tournament. He graduated through Bawa's Bombay Republicans outfit and got picked for the Mumbai team for the Senior Nationals in Pune, 2015. However, he did not get a single game there, and was distraught. But a super show at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana (WCG) rink hockey tournament the same year turned things around for the Rizvi College (Bandra) boy.

Junior India coach Harendra Singh, who was chief guest at WCG that day, was impressed with what he saw of Karkera. He called the boy for the Junior India camp and the hardworking goalkeeper hasn't looked back since. He then played the franchise-based Hockey India League for UP Wizards under the watchful eyes of current India coach Roelant Oltmans, but hardly got a game with senior pro PR Sreejesh under the bar.

Karkera somehow missed out on selection into India's Junior World Cup-winning team (Lucknow, December 8-18) last year but finally made the senior team for the Sultan Azlan Shah tourney(April 29–May 6) in Malaysia. However, fate had other ideas. A freak ankle twist a week before the team's departure to Malaysia saw him miss the tour. In fact, so severe was Karkera's ankle twist that he could not even recover in time for the Hockey World League Semi-finals.

This time, Karkera is hoping there are no 'twists' in the tale as he steps up between the posts for India. “My debut is against two of the world's top hockey-playing nations, so it's almost a baptism by fire. But I'm ready for it,” Karkera told mid-day yesterday.

The India squad:
Akash Chikte, Suraj Karkera (goalkeepers), Dipsan Tirkey, Kothajit Singh, Gurinder Singh, Amit Rohidas Varun Kumar (all defenders), SK Uthappa, Harjeet Singh, Manpreet Singh (captain), Chinglensana Singh (vice-captain), SumitNilakanta Sharma (all midfielders), Mandeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Gurjant Singh, Armaan Qureshi (all forwards)

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