I pick PR Sreejesh's brains: Mumbai lad Suraj Karkera
Mumbai lad Suraj Karkera is grateful for the opportunity to stay back in Bhubaneswar with the Indian team and learn under his idol PR Sreejesh
Mumbai–based hockey goalkeeper Suraj Karkera considers himself fortunate to be part of the Indian team at the World Cup here. That's because he is a part of the Indian camp inspite of failing to make the 18-member World Cup line-up. He is among the stand-bys, who have been retained by the team management so that they gain valuable exposure at the quadrennial showpiece event.
"It's a great opportunity to be part of a World Cup team in your own country. How many players get that opportunity? If the tournament was abroad, we [stand-bys] would not have been taken along," Karkera, 23, a Malad resident, told mid-day during a visit to the Fan Village at the Kalinga Stadium here
Karkera is in awe of his idol and senior goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. "Sreejesh has been doing such a fine job for Team India over the years. Everything he does is noteworthy — the way he holds and uses his stick, his moves, his dives, his anticipation and skill. I watch and learn every day," said Karkera, a product of veteran Mumbai-based coach Marzban 'Bawa' Patel. Krishan Pathak is Team India's second goalkeeper for the World Cup.
Learning in Bandra
Karkera began playing hockey for his school Children's Acadamy, Malad, and then honed his skills at Rizvi College, Bandra, before excelling under the bar for club, Bombay Republicans. A chance visit by then Junior India coach Harendra Singh (current coach of the senior India team), who was a chief guest at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana's rink hockey tournament in Khar in 2015, saw him earn a call-up to the Junior India camp. Thereafter, he played for UP Wizards at the franchise-based Hockey India League and earned his senior India call-up for the 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah event. But an ankle injury saw him miss out.
Senior India debut
He made his Sr India debut the following year and won gold at the 2017 Asia Cup in Dhaka. At the team hotel here, Karkera is sharing his room with another stand-by Jarmanpreet Singh, but tries to spend as much time as possible around Sreejesh. "I constantly pick Sreejesh's brains, ask him questions about goalkeeping and the game in general, and he always responds very patiently.
He says that he learnt some of the finer nuances of the game only after the age of 25, which is quite late, but is happy that we have got the opportunity to learn early. His physical ability notwithstanding, I'm in awe of his mental strength — it's amazing how he manages to perform despite being under pressure all the time," said Karkera, who was a ball boy in the first edition of the HIL in 2013 and played in the fourth edition, again under the guidance of Sreejesh, who was the first goalkeeper of UP Wizards. "I've been chasing Sreejesh since then. I'm still catching up," he said.
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