The two days so far at the FIH Pro League ‘mini tournament’ here have seen two 21-year-olds shine and impress as much for their temperament and potential as their performances. The fact that both of them are goalkeepers — India’s Pawan Malik and Jean-Paul Danneberg for Germany — is the only thing common between them, though.
Pawan has played a big team before — against Netherlands in an away game last year — and in front of big crowds at home (the 2021 Junior World Cup) but never together. Danneberg, meanwhile, starred in Germany’s World Cup triumph just over a month back in a packed Bhubaneswar stadium, becoming an instant hero for his shootout exploits in the final against Belgium.
Friday’s clash against Germany was only Pawan’s second game at this level while Danneberg has been with the German side for quite a while, despite limited game time. The youngster from Hisar, Haryana, has been part of some big events but admitted the step-up to senior level is a big one.
“We have played a lot as juniors, but the level here is very different, very high. The ball possession, ball rotation and speed from the opposition teams is all at a completely different level. Playing here was a big lesson in how to handle pressure in match situations at this level,” the lanky youngster said.
Learning the ropes
Being in camps with the likes of Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak has helped a lot. “He has a lot of experience, almost as much as my age! But he always keeps helping and advising, during the tournament and in camps also, he keeps giving tips on handling pressure and improving our game and it was a proud moment to play with him.
“Yes there was some pressure before the match began, but there were also positive vibes playing at home and seniors also helped. I was worried a bit but also enjoyed the moment,” Pawan said.
For Danneberg, man-of-the-match in his team’s victory over Australia on Saturday, getting to play an entire match was important in proving himself beyond the shootouts.
“It was great to perform in front of this whole crowd, these crazy people, the feeling is unbelievable and it’s nice to be back. It was very tough against Australia, I know I am a specialist for shootouts but I also train on the pitch so it was great to save goals and win against a team like them. But now we have to focus on ourselves and try to do better things,” the tall youngster admitted.
Asked how it affects a youngster when bringing off saves against a tough opponent like Germany, Pawan admitted the first attack was crucial. “Goalkeeper is a position where there is always pressure because you never know when an attack comes in a fast game like hockey. So the first attack is very important. If it is scored, the confidence does go low and makes you uncertain. But if it is saved, the exact opposite happens — you become more fearless and there is a feeling of doing well which helps raise your game.”
Different prep, same job
For Danneberg, who made at least half a dozen saves to deny Australia, the challenge is not in the intensity but the preparations while being on-field through the game as compared to coming on at the end.
“Mentally it’s a very tough job but I grew up with this, so one day you learn how to manage the situation, it’s like training. You know what you have to do then you can make those saves. But it’s not difficult to focus — it’s not the same, it’s different but it’s not more difficult. You know that you have only this one job and it’s my whole focus. My preparation is different...,” he tried to explain.
And while Pawan is willing to bide his time — “even if I do not get to play matches, I learn a lot every day from seniors in the camp” — knowing it will come sooner than later, Danneberg is aware of the expectations from him. And he is ready to accept them, regardless of the conditions.
“We are not 100 percent right now so it’s difficult but it’s also normal. We have snow in Germany right now and after the World Cup, you get rest and enjoy time with your family, not the best time to play hockey, maybe in four weeks it will be much better. But then again, that’s hockey and it’s what you do so you have to manage it,” he shrugged.
Despite their height and build, the agility, flexibility, and anticipation from both has been exceptional here so far and their respective teams would be hoping they continue in the same vein. That’s the only other commonality between the two.