“What’s been achieved here in the last 15 months is incredible,” said Reid, as he and skipper Harmanpreet Singh took their seats in the press conference room before joining the rest of the squad to train. “It was the first thing that hit us. Unbelievable!” he exclaimed in appreciation of the 20,000-seater stadium on the eve of India’s World Cup opener against Spain on Friday.
The massive structure has left most visitors mesmerized, as it has every player of the eight teams housed at the World Cup Village — a concept adopted from the Olympics and continental games. The other eight teams will play their pool games in Bhubaneswar.
A home World Cup offers the hosts the added advantage of crowd support, which has never disappointed in Odisha. With big-stage hockey arriving in Rourkela and the state government continuously putting its weight behind the sport, a packed house has been guaranteed, with tickets for all 20 matches in Rourkela getting sold out.
India, though, are not alien to packed houses and what that brings along. The team had similar experience as late as the last World Cup, which was also hosted by Odisha.
It’s the first World Cup for Reid as India coach and he knows from experience during his days as a player that home support can be a “double-edged sword”.
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“I know from my playing days, when Australia used to play Pakistan (in Pakistan) in front of 50,000 people. The nice part about that was trying to keep the crowd silent. That’s what the opposition is going to do (against India),” said Reid.
Reid played the 1990 World Cup, when Australia lost their voice amid deafening noise of 60,000 fans stuffed inside the 45,000 capacity National Stadium in Lahore in the semifinals.
The Aussies couldn’t silence the crowd then, and lost. India would hope their World Cup opponents meet the same fate. But Reid looked slightly wary of the opposite, which can lead to becoming “off task”.
He went on to explain that.
“For me, it is about staying in the moment. That’s what we talk a lot about, staying focused. If pressure is getting to you, if you have nerves, it means that you are off-task. It means you are either thinking about something that is going to happen in the future or something that has happened in the past. It means it’s a good trigger for us to say, ‘No, we need to be back’,” said Reid.
“One of the good things about hockey is you get the chance to come off the pitch and plan strategies if you didn’t play very well in the first stanza…Little tactics like that…get guys to try and understand that you need that pressure to perform. It’s actually a very good thing. So it’s a matter of understanding and getting to that point where you can let it motivate you, as you say, but you don’t go over the top. So the performance arousal comes into play.
“So it’s a double-edged sword to have such a great crowd with you,” he added.
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It’s the second World Cup for Harmanpreet. He was there in 2018 and has grown to not just become one of the world’s best drag-flickers but also the team’s captain, taking over from Manpreet Singh, who led the team to the Tokyo Olympics podium.
Harmanpreet stressed on the need to stay focused when the crowd is trying to lift the team. That is when, says Harmanpreet, communication on the pitch becomes even more crucial.
“We have talked about this during meetings, what the experienced players felt at the last World Cup as well,” the skipper said about the team’s experiences of playing in front of a packed Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar four years ago.
“In hockey, communication (on the pitch) is important. But sometimes you are unable to make those adjustments amid huge cheer…sometimes you won’t be able to communicate. In those situations, you should be aware of what is your responsibility and what your next move should be. Of course, the crowd motivates, you get a boost, but at the same time you have to focus, which is important,” said the 27-year-old defender.
Just before arriving to the stadium for practice, the team had its shirt-presentation — a huge moment for every player, especially those playing their first World Cup, and someone like the young Nilam Sanjeep Xess, who will be playing a World Cup in his home state, in front of the fans who have seen him grow.
“It was (done) to get everybody used to the fact that we are going to play the World Cup, and it’s a home World Cup,” Reid said.