It’s been a season where goals saved have been more remarkable than the ones scored and goalkeepers have got as much due as the strikers, a rare occurrence. But even as three Indians – all drag-flickers – sit comfortably in the top-five scorer’s list of this Hockey India League, the same cannot be said of the goalkeepers.
All six teams have preferred employing a foreign custodian over their desi counterparts, another indication towards the emptying goalkeeping cupboard of Indian hockey.
The country’s No.1 shot-stopper, PR Sreejesh, too has been left warming the bench by Mumbai Magicians for a major part this season. He has lost his place to little-known Irishman David Harte, who has turned quite a few heads with his performances. Sushant Tirkey, Bharat Chetri and Sreenivas Rao too have all fallen down the pecking order in their respective teams with Harjot Singh being the only exception.
The 20-year-old Kalinga Lancers keeper has been one of the few the bright spots as far as Indian goal-keeping is concerned by giving an option apart from Sreejesh to the Indian team selectors.
But still, he is considered far too young and inexperienced to be thrown into the deep end of international hockey.
The rest, including Sreejesh, have alas been pretty average.
The franchisees, who have spent loads of money in acquiring services of top international shot-stoppers, have not hesitated in getting their monies worth, while sacrificing relatively weaker Indian goalies.
“The clubs are spending a lot of money and they want results. So when you have the option of employing a world-class goalkeeper, why would they settle for an Indian who is not as good as them? We need to be practical in these matters,” says Sreejesh, as a matter-of-fact.
Sreejesh and Harte played alternate matches for the Magicians this season but it was the Irishman who featured in crunch matches. Other franchisees too have adopted a similar philosophy apart from Delhi Waveriders, who do not have a single Indian goalkeeper in their squad, opting for German Nicolas Jacobi and Dutchman Pirmin Blaak instead.
Jacobi has arguable been the best custodian so far along with Holland’s Jaap Stockman. Despite being more than 6-foot tall with beefy frames, the two goalkeepers have shown remarkable agility. “India does not have very strong goalkeepers,” says Ajitpal. “The foreign keepers are quick to bend and move despite being so huge. They cover all angles in front of the goal. If you look at Indian goalkeepers who are tall, they are very slow to react and are not able to balance their body,” he adds.
The national team has suffered the most in recent times due to poor goalkeeping. While Sreejesh has been a constant in the playing XI for last few years, touring without an experienced second continued…