On paper, it was just another contest between two mid-table teams of the Hockey India League (HIL). But Dabang Mumbai’s final home match against Uttar Pradesh Wizards was also supposed to be a battle between the country’s top two goalkeepers. On the night, though, PR Sreejesh showed the gulf of class that exists between him and Adrian D’Souza.
On one hand Sreejesh, the key behind India’s success at the Asian Games last year, showed the reason he is regarded as one of the best in the world at the moment. The 26-year-old stood as a wall behind the Wizards’ defenders. He made himself big in front of the goal to throw off Mumbai’s attackers and dived purposefully, making neat saves all the while. Even the solitary goal that Mumbai scored came after the Tamil Nadu native saw his diving effort to stop an initial shot at goal fall into the path of an opponent.
A forgettable outing
On the other hand, D’Souza, who won the best goalkeeper award two years in a row at the national championships, exhibited a forgetful performance after coming on early in the third quarter. In the 43rd minute of play, Wizards’ Bob De Voogd surged past the Mumbai defenders to find himself just inside the shooting circle, but with a fairly acute angle. He unleashed a goal-bound reverse hit which did warrant the custodian to attempt a save. D’Souza, though, only managed to get a feeble touch which actually guided the ball into the net.
Three minutes later, the 30-year-old keeper conceded another goal, almost identical to the previous one, again scored by De Voogd. Only this time, the shot completely evaded D’Souza’s attempts.
In terms of the consequences of the result, the hosts, whose remaining three games are all away from home, have an even weaker chance of making it to the knockout stage. UP, in turn, have further consolidated their berth in the top four. Field goals from Ramandeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah and a drag flick from skipper VR Raghunath accounted for the victors’ goals while Jeremy Hayward’s strike made for Mumbai’s consolation.
As far as the goalkeeping anxieties for the national team is concerned, the gap between one and two was on display. India’s number three comes in the form of an inexperienced 21-year-old Harjot Singh, who plies his trade in the HIL for table minnows Kalinga Lancers.
Given the status quo, Sreejesh will have no respite when it comes to attending to national duty. Not until the selectors manage to find a stable athlete to stand in goal.