Hockey World League Final: Chikte, Suraj are battle ready

Hockey World League Final: Chikte, Suraj are battle ready

India's two young goalkeepers Akash Anil Chikte and Suraj Karkera are aware their time in the spotlight could come to an end the moment P R Sreejesh returns from injury. They know they are just warming the seat for the country's premier goalkeeper and skipper.

The two, however, are unfazed and ready to make the most of their chances in the upcoming Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar (December 1-10) - perhaps the last tournament the duo could be picked together before the nearly-recovered Sreejesh makes a comeback from his ACL injury next season.

"It's very difficult to replace the big boots of Sreejesh because he's one of the best 'keepers in the world," said the 22-year-old Karkera, who made his senior international debut this season during a European tour.

"We have time in our hands. We've trained with him and all the sessions have been brilliant. He's there for us whenever we need him. He gives us a lot of feedback and constantly keeps sharing his experiences. Sreejesh is coming back slowly. It's good competition for us."

Chikte, who was mostly confined to the sidelines as Sreejesh dominated the scene, echoed Karkere's thoughts. "We will work hard and keep pushing each other. There is no room for argument in a goalkeeper's selection. His performance is clear to everyone, whether he is making saves or not. Nothing can be hidden. Everyone can see how good or bad a 'keeper is and what his weaknesses are. So if we are left out we don't feel bad. The stiff competition is good for us. Our level will improve."

Both Karkera and Chikte, employed with the Army, have taken slightly different routes to achieve their dream of playing for the country. Chikte hails from Lohara village in Yavatmal district, Maharashtra where his father is a welder and mother a homemaker. He started off playing football for his school Sai Vidyalaya before taking up hockey.

He moved to Pune after getting selected for the State academy at the Balewadi Sports Complex when in ninth standard. Making his State debut during the 2015 Senior Nationals, he was named the Most Promising Player of the tournament. A call-up to the senior camp soon followed before he wore the national colours for the first time at the Sultan Azlan Shah last year.

Karkera, who hails from Mumbai where his father is employed with a construction firm and his mother works as a beautician, started playing football in school before finding his calling in hockey. He played his first Nationals at the junior meet in 2014 and then graduated to the senior side next year. At that event, then junior coach Harendra Singh spotted him and called him for the junior camp.

Karkera and Chikte felt training with seniors has changed their careers.

"My basics (then) were zero," admitted the 25-year-old Chikte. "I had never played for the Junior Indian team so I didn't have much knowledge of the basics. I was only good at penalty corners and in one-on-one situations. Then Sreejesh bhai told me where I was going wrong and helped me improve. Now I'm confident I can do well."

"The transition from junior to senior also has been very good. It's challenging and good to be with seniors. We used to idolise them and now we are training with them. I think I'm much stronger than before," opined Karkera.

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