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Sreejesh has raised the bar for hockey goalkeepers in India, says young keeper Suraj Karkera

HAVING RECEIVED his first ever call-up for the Indian Senior Men’s core probable group, 21-year-old goalkeeper from Mumbai Suraj Karkera wants to make the most out of this opportunity without being too ambitious about finding his name in the national squad for the forthcoming 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.

“Thinking about my debut with the senior men’s team is farfetched. Right now, all I want to do is focus on my basics, improve my confidence and understand the demands of playing hockey at this level,”

said the youngster who made his Junior India debut at the Six Nation Volvo International Tournament in 2015. Suraj joined the national camp on March 14 along with other goalkeepers Vikas Dahiya, Akash Chikte and PR Sreejesh.

Since his debut, Karkera was a regular member in the junior squad and represented the country at the England Tour, EurAsia Cup 2016 and also accompanied the team for the Four Nation Tournament in Valencia, Spain last year. Though he missed out on making it for the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup 2016 in Lucknow where his compatriots Vikas Dahiya and Krishan Pathak were chosen ahead of him, he says he has no regrets of missing out.

“It was a 50-50 feeling. I knew these guys were better than me so I am not disappointed about not being part of the Junior World Cup winning team. But I am really excited Chief Coach Roelant Oltmans picked me for this camp. This past month has been a great learning experience for me,” he says. 

Working under the Senior Men’s team Chief Coach Roelant Oltmans is not new for Karkera who was part of the Uttar Pradesh Wizards unit in the previous two editions of Coal India Hockey India League. Oltmans was the Coach for the Uttar Pradesh franchise.

“Working under him is excellent because he is very clear in what he expects out of you and despite being a very young member in the squad, he makes sure I am never under any pressure,” said the Mumbai lad. 

For a youngster like him, being mentored by Indian Senior Men’s team Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh is the highlight of his career so far.

“I have followed Sreejesh’s game very closely. He has raised the bar for goalkeepers in India and youngsters like me are aware that we need to come at least close to his keeping skills if not match him to earn a spot in the team. I get to learn a lot from him and I watch him carefully in the camp. The way he treats the juniors is also very encouraging. I have never felt odd working with a senior of his stature,” expressed Karkera. 

In his stint with the Uttar Pradesh Wizards this season, Oltmans played Karkera for about two minutes towards the end of their match against Kalinga Lancers which they won 10-0.

“In those two minutes, I made two saves. Personally, for me, playing and practicing with stalwart players during the Coal India HIL has helped me build my confidence. I know I am a much better goalkeeper compared to last year and I know I will get chances to play for India someday but I want to be my best when I get that opportunity,” he concluded. 

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