Keeper's goals: Krishan Pathak is ready to step into Sreejesh's shoes

Goalkeeper Krishan Pathak Hockey India

India v New Zealand, October 28, FIH Pro League opening match in Bhubaneswar.

It's the final quarter, New Zealand lead 3-2 and are on the offensive. They have three solid shots on goal in the opening six minutes - enough to give them a comfortable lead. Standing in the way, though, is Krishan Pathak, India's second-choice keeper, who saves all three shots and displays his range.

First save - right positioning, making his body big and covering the angle of the shot on his right. Second save - a powerful penalty corner, he nonchalantly patted the ball way away from the danger. Third save - a block with his right foot against low shot from the centre of the circle.

Pathak kept India in the game before Mandeep Singh scored to win it.

Sooner or later, Pathak will take over the reins from PR Sreejesh, India's No 1 goalkeeper and legend. And his recent performances - 13 saves in 2 matches, conceding only twice - show he's ready.

He is only 25 but has experienced plenty of turmoil in his life. He lost both his parents early, but that didn't break him. He missed his father's funeral, choosing to play on with the junior team. He pushed himself to make a name in the sport he loved and is now earning the rewards.

Turning point in life

To fill Sreejesh's big shoes won't be easy, but Pathak is the last person to be fazed. Physically and mentally, he has all the attributes to become No 1. "The biggest turning point of my life was when my father passed away and I decided to skip the funeral and travel with the (junior) team to England for a competition. This was just before the 2016 World Cup (which India won) and I was named in the side after missing out a year. My father passed away two days before our scheduled departure. I made the decision to stay after talking to my coach, teammates and family. If I would've gone home then I wouldn't have reached where I am today," Pathak told ESPN.

Pathak lost his mother to heart attack before he turned 13. His father, a construction worker who shifted to Kapurthala, Punjab in search of work, also died due to heart attack in 2016.

"If you have seen so many things in life already, if you've already sacrificed so much, then you wouldn't be bothered by small problems. I don't take much pressure because I know I've faced bigger problems and overcame them," Pathak, whose family hails from Nepal, said.

Pathak has been part of the national team for over five years now. He's a junior World Cup winner and although he was not named in the main squad for Tokyo Olympics, he was a reserve goalkeeper and experienced the high of winning an Olympic medal. He has already played more than 70 matches for India, and the experience of playing two full Pro League seasons against top teams.

His current form is not a result of drastic changes, but due to consistently doing the right things in training and gaining more confidence by playing high-quality matches.

Off the field, he just tries to be lively and positive, to help his on-field performance. Sure, there are times when he loses his temper on the field. But he has realised that it doesn't do his game any good.

"I try to remain happy. If you're angry because of what happened on or off the field, I believe that will affect your performance. I keep calm, I focus on being happy, keep myself busy by talking to others. These actually help me on the field."

A modern goalkeeper

Modern hockey is tilted towards creating chances and converting them via penalty corners. PCs have become more important than ever, which in turn makes modern goalkeepers more crucial than ever. This is one area Pathak believes he needs to work on.

For Pathak, a simple task of analysing the opponents just before the match is highly important. "We work hard on penalty corners. For me, I will go prepared based on what I saw and what we discussed in the meeting before the match. I would study the dragflicker's style and make sure it's imprinted in my mind."

What is more difficult for a goalkeeper? Facing a world class dragflicker on a direct shot or teams which go for the penalty corner variation?

"With regard to a direct shot, this comes under the goalkeeper's responsibility. The direct hit comes right at you. Your position has to be correct, you have to stop the shot and then clear the ball away. I think a straight hit is more difficult," he said.

"When the teams try for deflection or a variation, at least I have three or four defenders from my side who are involved in the play. Those defenders help me during a variation. In a direct hit, first rusher and a goalkeeper are heavily involved but for a variation, it becomes easier for me because I get the help of a team," Pathak explained.

At the moment, only an injury will spoil his chances of making India's squad for next year's World Cup. In earlier tournaments, despite the game time, Pathak was perceived as the second best given the standard Sreejesh has set for Indian hockey. If Pathak keeps the form, India will have the huge benefit of two equally good goalkeepers at the World Cup.

India's next games:

India vs New Zealand on 4 November.

India vs Spain on 6 November.

Matches will take place at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and will begin at 7.10 PM IST, they will be shown live on Star Sports and Disney+ Hotstar.