HWL: I was ready for shootout, says India hockey player Akash
Akash Chikte, who made four saves in tie-breaker against Belgium, reveals he trained hard for the tricky situation with senior India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh
Akash Chikte, 25, hardly expected to get a look in during Wednesday's Hockey World League Finals quarter-final against World No. 3 Belguim. That's because the younger goalkeeper Suraj Karkera, 22, wasn't doing a bad job under the bar. But around 10 minutes from the end, with the score reading 3-2 in India's favour, coach Sjoerd Marijne played a masterstroke. He put Chikte in with the intention that firstly, the comparatively more experienced 'keeper would ensure the scoresheet remained unchanged, and India went through, or, if the game went into the shootout, Chikte was the better man in goal.
Indian players celebrate their win over Belgium with a grounded Akash Chikte in Bhubaneswar. PIC/PTI
"Belguim's [Amaury] Keusters pushed one in from the right and the ball trickled in off one of our defenders, so I couldn't do much about that goal [Belgium's 53rd minute equaliser for 3-3]. But I was ready for the shootout," Chikte told mid-day over the phone from Bhubaneshwar yesterday. He sure was, having undergone rigorous training under senior goalkeeper PR Sreejesh [currently recovering from injury], who's excelled in such situations before. "Sreejesh had practised shootouts with me during the camp in Bangalore. He had advised me to simply shadow the attacker and to ensure I never fall to the ground until the last moment when the attacker is delivering the final ball hit. I did just that and it paid off," adds Chikte, who effected as many as four saves from six Belgian attempts.
However, the shootout had its share of tension too. Chikte said: "I saved three out of their five shots but Harmanpreet [Singh], Sumit and Akashdeep [Singh] missed from our side and I was a bit frustrated there. Thankfully, in the sudden death, Harman got us the crucial lead and I held on for one final save." Sreejesh took to social media moments after the thrilling encounter to hail Chikte as his man of the match. "The man of the match award should go to the goalkeeper — Akash, who's done a thankless job. Well done, brother. You are the man of the match today," wrote Sreejesh. And he was right!
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