Suraj Karkera

Bengaluru, April 8 (IANS) Having received his first call-up to the probable list for the senior India squad, young goalkeeper Suraj Karkera is keen to improve his game as he prepares to stake his claim for a spot in the national team.

“Thinking about my debut with the senior men’s team is farfetched. Right now, all I want to do is focus on my basics, improve my confidence and understand the demands of playing hockey at this level,” Karkera said in a statement on Saturday.

The 21-year-old from Mumbai, who made his debut for the junior India team at the Six Nation Volvo International Tournament in 2015, joined the senior national camp on March 14 along with other goalkeepers Vikas Dahiya, Akash Chikte and P.R. Sreejesh.

Karkera has represented the junior India team at the England tour, EurAsia Cup 2016 and the Four Nation Tournament in Valencia, Spain last year.

Though he was left out of the squad for the Hockey Junior World Cup 2016 in Lucknow where Vikas Dahiya and Krishan Pathak were chosen ahead of him, he says he has no regrets for missing out.

“It was a 50-50 feeling. I knew these guys were better than me so I am not disappointed about not being part of the Junior World Cup winning team. But I am really excited Chief Coach Roelant Oltmans picked me for this camp. This past month has been a great learning experience for me,” he said.

Working under senior India team chief coach Roelant Oltmans is not new for Karkera who was part of the Uttar Pradesh Wizards unit in the previous two editions of the Hockey India League. Oltmans was the coach for the Uttar Pradesh franchise.

“Working under him is excellent because he is very clear in what he expects out of you and despite being a very young member in the squad, he makes sure I am never under any pressure,” the Mumbai lad said.

For a youngster like him, being mentored by experienced goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh at the senior national camp is the highlight of his career so far.

“I have followed Sreejesh’s game very closely. He has raised the bar for goalkeepers in India and youngsters like me are aware that we need to come at least close to his keeping skills if not match him to earn a spot in the team,” Karkera said.

“I get to learn a lot from him and I watch him carefully in the camp. The way he treats the juniors is also very encouraging. I have never felt odd working with a senior of his stature.”

In his stint with the Uttar Pradesh Wizards this season, Oltmans played Karkera for about two minutes towards the end of their match against Kalinga Lancers which they won 10-0.

“In those two minutes, I made two saves. Personally, for me, playing and practicing with stalwart players during the Coal India HIL has helped me build my confidence,” he said.

“I know I am a much better goalkeeper compared to last year and I know I will get chances to play for India some day but I want to be my best when I get that opportunity.”

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