Feels good to play alongside PR Sreejesh and to learn from him, says Hockey India goalkeeper of the year Krishan B Pathak
Krishan B Pathak has had a meteoric rise as India goalkeeper ever since making his debut in 2018 and being an understudy to the experienced PR Sreejesh.
Since 2006, Bharat Chettri, Akash Chikte, Harjot Singh, Vikas Dahiya and Suraj Karkera have all played near second fiddle to PR Sreejesh as India goalkeeper
Krishan B Pathak is the latest challenger for the India custodian and has made quite an impact in under two years
Pathak, 22, from Punjab won the Goalkeeper of the Year award and a cheque of Rs five lakh at the third annual Hockey India awards
India hockey goalkeeper PR Sreejesh made his international debut during the 2006 South Asian Games in Sri Lanka and has largely dominated the spot ever since. During the period, Bharat Chettri, Akash Chikte, Harjot Singh, Vikas Dahiya, Suraj Karkera have all played near second fiddle to the Keralite shot-stopper. Latest challenger to the role is Krishan Bahadur Pathak — and it seems the goalkeeper from Punjab can provide fierce competition.
Sreejesh's ability between the sticks cannot be questioned and his wealth of experience: three World Cups, two Olympic Games, two Commonwealth Games and two Asian Games, only helps the team in stiff situations. The Padma Shri and Arjuna Awardee has 234 caps to his name and he's deserved those. But it begs the question of 'who next' and Pathak has presented a strong show thus far.
Having started as Sreejesh's deputy in 2018 during the tour to New Zealand, he made his debut at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, before remaining as first choice reserve keeper on the tour to Australia, FIH Men's Series Finals and Hockey World Cup in 2018. He was part of the squad that won a silver medal at the Champions Trophy in 2018 and bronze medal at the Asian Games in the same year. At the Olympic Test Event in Japan, Pathak stepped up to the plate with Sreejesh rested. It highlighted that team unit was ready to give the 22-year-old more playing time.
In 2019, Pathak performed well during India's tour of Belgium and was integral to the squad for the FIH Series Finals and Olympic qualifiers. This year, he has been sharing the goalkeeping duties almost equally with Sreejesh during the FIH Pro League. His meteoric rise earned him the Baljit Singh Award for Goalkeeper of the Year 2019 at the third annual Hockey India Awards.
"It's a great feeling to win this award. And I don't think this is about me and for me alone because credit also goes to the team. If I've won this award for 2019, it is because we played well in the year. So credit also goes to them," he said on picking up the award on Sunday in the capital alongside a Rs 5 lakh cheque.
Incidentally, Sreejesh had won the honour in the first edition of the awards held back in 2014. On Sunday, he was one of the nominees alongside Pathak and women's squad members Rajani Etimarpu and Savita. But for Pathak, there is plenty of learning to do from Sreejesh even as competition gets stiffer for the Tokyo Olympics main keeper role.
"I've been playing since 2018 and we both (PR Sreejesh) have had equal number of chances since then. There are things I learn from him, it feels good to play with him, with a senior member like him, it gives me plenty of motivation and presents a great learning opportunity as well."
"I've picked up (on) leadership, how to communicate well on the ground, how to lead the team, how to play in a pressure situation and to speak to the team. I've picked up those things from him."
Keep an eye on Pathak during the FIH Pro League contests recently against Netherlands, Belgium and Australia and you notice a charged up individual who keeps motivating the teammates from the sidelines. He acknowledges it is something he used to do from his 2016 Junior World Cup winnings days and keeps him motivated too. "During the Junior World Cup, motivating players was something I used to do quite often. Pumping up players even on the bench is an important aspect to do. If we're cheering for players from the sidelines, then it only helps the player. However positive we are, will make the player positive on the field of play. So even if I'm not involved in goal, I keep boosting the morale of my colleagues and keep communicating so I feel like I'm in the game myself," he stated.
Just 22, Pathak has plenty to do to make the goalkeeping job his own and build a legacy the way Sreejesh has. "It is important to keep this level of play considering I just started in 2018 so my career is very new. To keep improving, to take my career chart higher is on me. So I have to learn from my mistakes and use my good play as well. This is just early phase in my career, this is just the beginning," he said of a man confident in his abilities but one who remains grounded as well.
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