Cherubic, restrained, and reticent, Krishan Bahadur Pathak is quite the antithesis of his senior counterpart in the Indian side who is boisterous, flamboyant and has a sense of humour to match. PR Sreejesh’s towering six-foot frame dwarfs many in the Indian contingent including the 22-year-old goalkeeper from Kapurthala who is now slowly but surely coming into his own.
Emerging from under Sreejesh’s shadow could scarcely have been an easy task for either Krishan or the other prospective young goalkeepers in the side such as Suraj Karkera who managed to garner the interest of the selectors with good performances when the veteran was recuperating after injury – like at the Azlan Shah Cup last year. Despite being in the team for pretty much every big tournament in 2018 (aside from the Commonwealth Games when Suraj Karkera got the nod), Krishan Pathak spent little time between the posts in the actual matches as the team management preferred the comforting sight of Sreejesh guarding the citadel.
Krishan had little to do in the Champions Trophy, Asian Games, or the World Cup – most often replacing Sreejesh in the final quarter of the pool games at Jakarta after the Indians had taken a mammoth and insurmountable lead. “Last year, I did not get much time on the field of play – one quarter or so at the end is what I typically got – but this year I get around thirty minutes in front of goal which I feel is a welcome development for me,” says Krishan who was part of India’s 2016 Junior World Cup-winning squad.
At the Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year, the Indian team management decided to give Krishan the same amount of time in front of the goal as Sreejesh – and did the unthinkable in the final by asking the youngster to face up to the Koreans in the vital shootout. In an exclusive interaction with The Bridge ahead of the Olympic qualifiers, the youngster who has cemented his place in the India side remains nonchalant about his rapid rise – effective, but unobtrusive as ever – on the field and off it.
“Having said all of the above, I personally feel I handle pressure well generally. Korea did really well in the pool stages and so did we so it was not an easy clash for either side,” says he. In spite of the fact that the Indians lost the shootout at Ipoh, the message from the think-tank was clear – Krishan Pathak was one to be groomed for greater challenges ahead. Waiting in line is a process most custodians have to patiently endure, with Sreejesh himself having to learn the ropes from Bharat Chettri and Adrian D’Souza before establishing himself as one of India’s all-time greats under the bar – yet, a lot has changed since the time the Great Wall began his career.
There was a time, not so long ago, when a goalkeeper would have been expected to guard the citadel for the entire 70-minute duration of a match but dramatic rule changes that were announced in March 2014 changed the way hockey was played – and in no small measure. Four speedy quarters of fifteen minutes each were introduced to add flair to the game – and the alterations have, with time, influenced goalkeeping too.
It has now become quite the norm to change goalkeepers every quarter – but just how difficult it is to switch off and on at fifteen-minute intervals? Staying involved in the game is the key, opines Krishan, who has now learnt to use the breaks to his advantage.
Krishan has now played against all the top sides in world hockey – which teams, according to him, pose the greatest danger? “Robbert Kemperman’s reverse hits are very dangerous – but I feel the Germans and Belgians are now beginning to get a lot more aggressive than before.”
In a quest to constantly improve and adapt, Krishan is keen to keep learning – and cites the camp, which renowned goalkeeping trainer Dennis van de Pol conducted, which helped him in this regard. “A camp for the goalkeepers of the Indian men’s team was conducted earlier this year and I benefitted a lot from the training I received. Stance and appropriate positioning are the two areas that any international goalkeeper needs to constantly focus on and I have done so too – implementing what we learn in practice on the field of play is the key to success.”
The focus is currently on Russia with the Olympic qualifiers around the corner but with a busy 2020 season ahead, which includes the Pro League, Indian hockey fans will no doubt see a lot more of the youngster who promises so much. “Experience is the most vital ingredient of all – I, too will get better with experience,” says Krishan whose simple words reverberate with the confidence of one who has gone through the grind and come out unscathed.