Around this time last year, Adrian D’Souza was preparing his research notes for the second edition of the Hockey India League (HIL). The 30-year-old’s responsibilities then lay within the commentary box. This year though, he will be back doing what he does the best. And so it was that the veteran goalkeeper exhibited a childish fervour during newly-formed Dabang Mumbai’s first practice session at the Mahindra Stadium here on Friday.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t been playing the game. D’Souza has been crucial in Air India’s dominance in the domestic circle these past few years. In the process, he has won the best goalkeeper award at the national championships for the last two years. Yet, the excitement on display came in the form of a hope he holds of getting back into the national team.
“There have been so many players who were off and then got back on the team. HIL was a platform for them so maybe it can be for me too,” he said.
The last time the Mumbai-lad played in India colours was at the Sultan of Azlan Shah Cup in 2011. Post that, his involvement in World Series Hockey (WSH) didn’t go well with the Hockey India higher-ups. His failing a dope test in 2012 didn’t do much to help his case either. A consequent one-year ban was imposed on him. Following that, he starred at the nationals in Pune two years ago, and then in Lucknow in 2014.
At a time when India’s goalkeeping cupboard is all but empty, a few feel D’Souza’s experience and quality will come in handy. At present, the gap between India’s No.1 custodian PR Sreejesh and the rest is huge. The 30-year-old is seen as the one who can bridge it. As a result, the selectors have tried bringing him back into the national team fold but Hockey India continues to block his return.
But Dabang Mumbai did not think twice before bringing him on board for the third season of the HIL, that kicks off on January 22.
Despite being ignored for the last few years, D’Souza hasn’t given up the hopes of playing for the national team. “Every time I wear the pads, I hope to do well and return to the national team. That’s my ultimate goal,” he said.
For D’Souza, the chance to play the HIL for his home city has also been a pleasant honour. Yet at the same time, he is well versed with the previous team’s weak showings at the tournament – his work as commentator giving him a chance to analyse the past squad.
“The team would often lose out in the second half. We’d lead by half time in most of those games, and then lose out in the last few minutes. There was no consistency and that’s something we’ve got to address this year,” he asserted.
The veteran of over 200 national caps is looking to guide his team to a better season this time around. “If I can help in changing results for my team, that’ll be the best thing I can hope for this HIL,” he says.
On the day of the squad’s first practice session, his excitement was evident. He stood in front of the goal, constantly in discussion with goalkeeping coach Edgar Mascarenhas Junior. Nonetheless, D’Souza maintains that he doesn’t want to pressurise himself with his hopes. “I want to do well, so I need to make sure I’m focused on the right things. I can’t get ahead of myself,” he added.