HT Brunch Cover Story: Smells like team spirit
Five members of the Olympic-winning Indian national field hockey squad explain how a closely bonded team will always bring honour home
For the five players of India’s national field hockey squad representing the team for the HT Brunch cover, very little about the interview and shoot is different from how they usually work and play.
The rest of it—the camaraderie between the five team members as they ham it up for the shoot at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus in Bangalore where they stay and train—is as natural as everyday life for them. Because this is a team in which each member is bonded to the other for life.
This is the team that beat Germany at Tokyo in 2021, bringing home the first field hockey Olympics medal that the country had seen in 41 years.
The tease that binds
“After our families, our colleagues are the closest to us and are just like a second family,” says Harmanpreet. “Since all of us stay together at the SAI campus, we are quite close to each other, sharing our happiness and sorrows with each other.”
“They may seem very sober and serious, but they are the leaders of fun,” says Hardik. “For example, we are not allowed to carry our phones with us while we train, nor are we supposed to forget our water bottles. If any of us has done one or the other of these things, we are made to dance or sing or perform in some other way to atone for our lack of discipline! Despite being our seniors, they never let us feel unheard or uninvolved, which creates a great environment for the team.”
According to Hardik, there is no question of any team member being too nervous to talk to his seniors regarding issues related to performance anxiety or anything else. “Sreejesh sir and Manpreet have played an important role in improving this team’s world ranking from number 12 to the current number 3 over the last 10 years. So, whenever we have any doubts about our performance, we discuss it with them. They help clear our doubts and guide us in the right direction,” he says.
For Manpreet, 30, guiding team members is part of his duty and responsibility as team captain.
“This has become so common now, that whenever we can’t find our shoes or slippers or anything else, we just go straight to Manpreet and ask for our stuff back,” laughs Sreejesh.
“We were not allowed to come out of our rooms which was very difficult,” recalls Vivek. “After a point, we got bored watching movies or playing games on our phones. We wanted to interact with each other and have fun the way we did earlier.”
We faced the struggles as one unit, and had just one goal in mind: to win an Olympic medal,” he continues. “That single goal kept us motivated and now we are working on improving the colour of the medal in the Paris Olympics 2024 and finishing on the podium at the Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup in 2023.”
“Instead of going out for parties or dinners, we order food here in the campus and create a pool party kind of atmosphere since we have a swimming pool. We also create our own movie nights by putting a projector in someone’s room. These things help us to relax and feel good together,” reveals Sreejesh.
The stylist for this cover story is Prasad Bidapa, an iconic fashion consultant, choreographer and image consultant