Since their arrival last week, a bunch of foreigners have visited Manori beach, travelled by local trains, flown kites, and have even braved Mumbai traffic. These visitors are in fact Dabang Mumbai’s international hockey players, who will turn out for the city’s franchise at the Hockey India League.
And they have already assimilated the Mumbai experience as part of their team-bonding strategies. Ten against three was never going to be a fair competition. And so it was proven when the city’s new franchise for the Hockey India League fielded its foreign stars – Tom Boon, Floris Evers and Glenn Turner – to play against the 10 schoolchildren, almost all being half the size of the visiting group. Interestingly enough, the match wasn’t even supposed to happen, but for the students’ request. “They wanted some photographs. We wanted to play them,” says Evers, before leaving to celebrate Boon’s second goal.
The small patch of mud land behind the south stand of the Mahindra Stadium, usually used as parking, is what made the ground for the unofficial game, which ended 5-2 to the Belgium, Holland and Australia nationals respectively – although nobody could certify what the true score was.
In terms of timing, the game took place just a few days before the HIL season kicks off. To most teams, this period is used to fine-tune their strategies and keep a strict focus on the game ahead of a new campaign. The Mumbai franchise, on the other hand, has employed a different plan. “Too much hockey ahead of a tournament can cause a lot of mental stress. We want the players to have a fresh mind when they go into matches so that they can concentrate better,” says team mentor Viren Rasquinha.
The two-week camp has been all about giving the players opportunities to build a rapport. Training sessions were organised both on the pitch, Manori beach and Chowpatty beach. “We did a lot of fitness training on the beaches. We played football and a bit of hockey. Then we all relaxed and took a dip in the sea,” says defender Harmanpreet Singh.
The mood in the camp has essentially been light-hearted and jovial ever since the players started reporting to the camp almost a fortnight ago. Training sessions have been carefully conducted, with the coaches laying stress on improving any sign of weakness. At the same time, the mischief off-field has spilled over during practice – Evers being nominated as the team comedian. “When someone makes a mistake during practice, everyone stops and makes fun of that player. Floris sometimes imitates that person too. It’s all done in good fun,” explains Harmanpreet.
Team-bonding experiences also included celebrating local festivals. For example, a scheduled team practice session at the stadium on the day of Makarsankranti ended with the players flying kites.
Despite the merry-making, the squad has maintained a serious look on the sport. Turner, who captained the previous and now defunct Mumbai Magicians franchise, says, “The management has got it right and we’ve got a very good team. The first goal is to reach the semi-finals. It’ll be terribly disappointing if we don’t.”