SINCE HIS international debut last year at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, Akash Chikte has had creditable outings for India including the 2016 Men’s Hockey Asian Champions Trophy victory where he stood up to the pressure of facing Pakistan in the Final.
Chikte who had traveled to Kuantan as a reserve goalkeeper had to step up for an injured P.R Sreejesh and he lived up to the billing. India won the Final match 3-2 and Chikte announced his arrival in the international scene. Earlier in the tournament, he had played a crucial role in India’s 2-1 win against hosts Malaysia.
At this year’s 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup too, he was faced with similar situation after Sreejesh was ruled out of the tournament due to an injury he sustained while playing against Australia. The team returned from Malaysia with a Bronze Medal and Akash with oodles of confidence to play against the world’s best teams.
“It is this exposure over the past year that has helped me a lot,”
expressed Chikte after a tough morning session at the on-going national camp in Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru.
Chikte along with Junior World Cup winning Goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya will travel with the team as goalkeepers for the forthcoming 3 Nations Tournament in Dusseldorf, Germany and the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final (Men) in London where India is grouped with Canada, Scotland, Netherlands and Pakistan. While all the Pool Stage matches promises to be high voltage encounters, there will be tremendous outside pressure when India takes on Pakistan in their third Pool Stage match on June 18.
“We will look at this as any other match, vying for the three points to advance in the tournament. I have played twice against Pakistan (2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and Asian Champions Trophy) and we ended up winning both the matches so I have a lot of confidence from these matches. I look forward to a good show against the world’s best teams. I believe it will be a learning experience for me,” stated an optimistic Chikte.
A constant name in the goalkeepers list for India camp, Chikte has used this opportunity to his benefit under the watchful eyes of Bharat Chetri and India’s ace goalkeeper PR Sreejesh.
“I have learnt a lot under them. I used to watch Sreejesh when the national team used to train at Balewadi Stadium, Pune. His reflexes were excellent. I was inspired by him and he has helped me a lot since my first camp. Working under Sreejesh and Bharat Chetri has been a big advantage for me. My focus at every session now is on stopping penalty corners,” he said.
Chikte believes he is a far better goalkeeper today than he was when he played his first match for India last year.
“After my first tournament for India, I knew there was a lot I needed to work on starting from improving my confidence level. I had never been in any junior India camp before. I got to play the senior level directly and I knew I was lacking in basics,”
admitted the Pune lad. It was in 2015 that Chikte got a call up for the Senior India camp after an outstanding performance in that year’s Hockey India Senior National Hockey Championship where he was adjudged the Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
“That was the turning point of my career. My performance at the Nationals was recognized with a chance in the national camp,” he said.
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