India Hockey: Seniors helping youngsters like Suraj Karkera shine
Suraj Karkera certainly knows how to take a knock on his chin and move on. About a year on since being neglected for the Junior World Cup - a tournament India went on to win - the man from Mumbai has made huge strides and now finds himself in the core group that Roelant Oltmans has created to tackle the challenges of the upcoming Asia Cup.
Bad luck seemed to have struck again in April as the 21-year-old twisted his ankle in camp just before the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup - ruling him out of the trip to Ipoh, Malaysia. But his wait to don the Indian colours was a short one as Oltmans picked him alongside six new faces for the recently-concluded tour of Europe where they beat the Netherlands twice in as many games.
Out with the old and in with the new seems to have been the mantra for the Dutchman in recent times. And with the coach hell bent on changing not only the complexion of the team but also the brand of hockey that the Men in Blue play, the team has been blooded with youngsters like Suraj Karkera.
Being a rookie out there can be a tough thing in sports. Playing alongside names you have come to idolise and worship can certainly be a daunting task. More so if you are the goalkeeper of the side who has to bark out orders to the backline.
Karkera, however, feels his transition into the senior team has been a smooth one with the seniors making him feel at home.
"The seniors here have been great. We all have the same goal here and that is to bring glory to India. They know that for youngsters like us to play well, we need to be relaxed. They keep speaking to me on the field and have told me to speak out whatever and whenever I need to," states Karkera. "They have told me to bark out orders whenever I need to and that has really made my job much easier."
The life of a goalkeeper can be a thankless one. A number of brilliant acts of saving goals can be undone in a moment by a single mistake and no one knows that better than Karkera. When he first shined at the six-nation Volvo International Tournament in The Netherlands, the then teenager captured all eyes with his performances against Belgium and the hosts.
However, in the third place playoff, the youngster let his guard down as India succumbed to a 0-3 defeat - a performance that has left a scar in his heart. Other keepers in the squad viz. Ashok Chikte and Vikas Dahiya have been the culprits of some awkward moments themselves and with a name such as PR Sreejesh always in the background, anyone standing between the goalposts for India needs to perform.
Karkera, however, has a positive outlook on all of this.
"You have the opportunity to be the hero of the team. Just look at Sreejesh. He is a teammate, a competitor and an inspiration for us. He is someone you look up to and I pick his brains anytime I can," quips the newest entrant in the goalkeeping fray for India. "Yes, I am where I want to be but I also have to get better and that is the most important thing. Finally, being selected in the Indian team is like a dream and I want to continue doing this for a long time to come."
Suraj Karkera has come a long way since picking up a hockey kit in Class 4 in Children's Academy (Malad) after being attracted to the colourful goalkeeping pads - a decision he terms as the best in his life.
He has taken both the bad and the good and performed admirably enough to get into Oltmans' scheme of things. Now, he just wants to keep performing for both his teammates as well as the country. And we certainly hope he does.