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Hockey Junior World Cup: Having PR Sreejesh in his corner helped Vikas Dahiya

Vikas Dahiya had PR Sreejesh in his corner for the tense shoot-out and he hung on to every word the senior said, as India beat Australia.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Lucknow |
December 17, 2016 1:14:18 am
India Junior Hockey World Cup, Vikas Dhaiya, PR Sreejesh, Sreejesh, India vs Belgium, India vs Australia Junior Hockey World Cup, Junior Hockey World Cup Final, Hockey news, Hockey PR Sreejesh has put in extra hours with the junior goalkeepers for the last one month. (Source: Hockey India)

Before the junior World Cup began, India coach Harendra Singh gave every player a sheet with 36 columns to fill. It was all basic details — name, village, parent’s occupation, debut tournament, and such. Under the column ‘idol’ and ‘toughest opponent’, goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya had little hesitation in writing ‘PR Sreejesh’ and ‘Australia’ respectively. On Friday, the 21-year-old’s idol helped him get past his toughest opponent.

Barely 50 seconds remained for the penalty shoot-outs to start after the junior World Cup semifinal ended in a 2-2 draw after regulation time.

Australian goalkeeper Ashleigh Thomas was already standing near the goal post. Just as Dahiya started to walk in that direction, Sreejesh pulled him by the shoulder. For almost 30 seconds, the India captain whispered instructions in the youngster’s ear.

Few players globally are as good as Sreejesh during the shoot-outs. He has ensured India’s win from these situations at the 2014 Asian Games, 2015 World League Finals and the semifinals of the Asian Champions Trophy earlier this year. On all three occasions, India finished on the podium.

Dahiya, in that sense, had the perfect man in his corner for this tense shoot-out against Australia. And he hung on to every word Sreejesh said.

“He told me to stand my ground. Jab tak khade ho, forwards pe pressure hota hai. Gir gaya, toh goal khaya,” Dahiya says, recalling his conversation with Sreejesh.

It’s a strategy that has worked wonders for Sreejesh as well. He never commits himself when the penalty-taker enters the ‘D’. Instead, he stands his ground, blocking the attacker’s angles and forces him away from the goal. His balance, use of the stick and quick footwork were the key factors in both those wins in shootouts.

“My idea is simple, just watch the ball; not what the attacker is doing. I follow the ball and try to ensure it does not go past me,” Sreejesh had earlier said.

Training followed by shoot-out

Every Indian training session ends with a shoot-out practice. And it was evident. Dahiya made himself big in front of Matthew Bird and Lachlan Sharp, smothering them and eventually forcing them to hit wide. He would have pulled off a third save as well. After stopping Jack Welch’s first attempt, he stopped in between, assuming the 8 seconds were up. Welch recovered and kept Australian hopes alive.

But not for long. Manpreet Junior stepped up, and like Harjeet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and Sumit Kumar before him, calmly put the ball past Thomas to put India in Sunday’s final.

Sreejesh has put in extra hours with the junior goalkeepers for the last one month. And his influence on Dahiya was visible throughout the match.

The young goalkeeper was guilty of conceding too many soft goals, especially from corners because of his positioning and reflexes. His first instinct was to push the ball towards the centre than sideways.

“Sreejesh said it wasn’t the right thing to do. He told me to push the ball wide so that the attackers do not get an opportunity to score from the rebound,” Dahiya says. He did just that against Australia, which was the young goalkeeper’s first real test. Until now, he was hardly troubled with most teams adopting a defensive approach.

He ended up making more saves in Friday’s semifinal than the whole tournament put together.

Although the first goal he conceded from the penalty corner was because he did not push it sideways, Dahiya virtually had an error-free game, pulling off some fine saves. “It was frustrating till now. The opponents had one shot on goal and they used to score. I never got a chance to redeem myself,” he says. On Friday, he did.

And in some style.

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