Former India goalkeeper Romeo James admires the ‘acrobatic style’ of wicketkeeping of India’s one-day skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose ‘innovations’ in collecting the ball behind the sumps is a huge inspiration even for hockey goalkeepers.
James, who is also the goalkeeping coach of the junior team, said, “Dhoni’s style of keeping wickets is quite inspirational even for hockey goalkeepers in India.”
James, who hails from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, was part of the India squad at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where the team missed a spot in the semifinals by a whisker and eventually finished fifth.
“The game has changed a lot since our days but it is the same for the guys under the bar. But goalkeeping still remains an exciting art,” said James, who was India’s main goalkeeper when the team won silver at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. “Courage, agility and hockey sense has to be there to be a good goalkeeper.”
He, however, admitted that the standard of goalkeeping has improved a lot in the country. He rates the present India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh as a cut above the rest. “He has all the qualities of a good goalkeeper, and is one of the best in the world,” added James.
“It takes about six to seven years for a goalkeeper to mature,” said James, who believes that junior India goalkeepers, Akash Chitke and Vikas Dahiya, are the ones to watch out for. “Both these young men are the stars of the future and they have the ability to handle any kind of pressure.”
After hanging his boots, James didn’t turn away from the game. The senior manager at Bharat Petroleum plugged back his experience into the game, becoming the goalkeeping coach of the senior India team from 1993-94 and then again from 2008-2011.
He had a nightmarish moment of his life when goalkeeper Baljit Singh hurt his eye during a training camp in Pune in July 2009. James was trying a unique technique of training with a golf set to improve the agility of goalkeepers and the ball went through the grill of the helmet and injured Baljit’s eye.
James, who was rattled by the incident, has guided many top goalkeepers and is now with the junior India team for the past one-and-a-half years. A product of the Lucknow Sports Hostel, James believes the problem of not starting training early was affecting the standards of goalkeepers.
“Here we start doing things technically at around 11 years, while in Europe, they begin at around five.” That, according to him, makes the difference in standards.
Romeo, who has the distinction of producing world-class goalkeepers like Bharat Chhetri and Adrian D’Souza, who represented India for almost a decade, also admitted that he has been enjoying his stint with the juniors, and claimed that if all went right, India would retain the Cup after 15 years.