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The Rediff Special/Deepti Patwardhan
October 25, 2004
I wish everybody had fire. But they don't. You have players who have the talent but not the heart, you have players who have the heart but not the talent: Michael Jordan.
Slide show: World's envy, India's pride
Can we argue much about talent when a 20-year-old, playing his first big tournament -- that too the Olympics -- draws admiration despite being part of a crumbling team?
But Adrian D'Souza is all about a big heart; no doubt about that. You can see it in his ear-to-ear grin (perpetual) and in his eyes, when they focus on the ball (always keep looking at that little white thing, he says).
You can see it in the way he greets his building pals (they stop a game of cricket to give him a pat on the back) and when he leaps with joy and pumps his fist after saving another penalty-corner (he did that six times in one game recently against Sohail Abbas, the world's best exponent of the set-piece).
In only ten months since being named in the side, India's No.1 hockey goalkeeper has demonstrated that it takes more than talent, hard work and good fortune to succeed at guarding the Indian goal.
His confidence and focus hold him apart. You know he's cut out for top class competition because he enjoys a challenge, thinks it is fun to face the fiercest drag-flickers in the world, and is motivated, not intimidated, with the charged atmosphere of a hockey stadium.
"Most of the time the crowd is right behind your back. I get excited when people are shouting, even if it is against you. I feel like a soldier standing under the bar," confesses Adrian.
He also understands the "increased responsibility" of the job, especially now that he has expectations to meet.
The last time we saw him on the hockey field, he was collecting the Player of the Series award for the India-Pakistan 'Dosti' series that was revived after five years.
"That's the sixth, including the Best Goalkeepers' awards, that I've won," he informs.
On that Sunday evening in Hyderabad, Adrian managed outwit the best in business of scoring. India ended the series on a high, beating Pakistan 2-0. And, for the first time, Abbas looked lost while deciding how he should flick the ball: lift it or roll it?
Adrian only smiles at that.
"That was pure luck. But I wanted to go goalless for one match, at least. I knew I could do it. I think it's every goalkeeper's dream that he shouldn't have a single goal against his name."
Apparently, he's done it for most of his life and won awards in the process.
The first of them, in just about any category, he stresses, was when he won the best goalkeeper's award in an under-10 school event playing for his school, St. Anne's in Malad, a north-east suburb in Mumbai.
"That is the time my parents realised I was not all that bad."
He smiles away the memories even as mother Joyce, sitting just a chair away, laughs with approval. She doesn't have much to complain now.
The boy from the cosy Orlem neighbourhood in Malad has grown into India's biggest hope, in a game that regularly threatens to pull out from its pedestal.
For years his parents had to virtually haul him out of the bed for early morning jogs at the Marve beach, in Malad. "I still hate getting up early," Adrian admits, with a frown on his face.
With his elder brother, Ashley, doing well in studies and sports, Adrian was forced to show dedication at least in one discipline. And, as he says, since he was "pretty bad" at studies, sports was the only choice.
"Hockey was just a co-incidence," he informs. "When I was eight years old I played football for my school. Next year the hockey coach told my dad that I could be a good goalkeeper. The first year that I played hockey for my school, I won that award."
It was a cash prize and trophy that, he says, was awarded by former India Olympian Mervyn Fernandis. He insists that the prize-money was just a hundred rupees, though his mother says it was Rs.1000, the remaining Rs 900 was donated to a charity.
Eleven years on and Adrian has already achieved the honour of playing in the Olympics.
"Playing in the Olympics was great. I can now claim to have played with the best. I wasn't quite sure I would get to play all the games, but it worked out pretty well. I was the junior goalkeeper and just wanted to do well. Take everything as it comes.
"I was so excited to face them, the best in business; really excited to meet the top icons of the game and embrace the rush."
The lead-up to the Games wasn't as promising as Adrian would've liked. In his debut series, the Azlan Shah Cup, India's performance was lukewarm, and his next series, the Rabobank Cup in Germany, was used by the IHF as a selection trial for the three goalkeepers in the squad.
Indeed, Athens changed it all for Adrian. Pushed into the thick of it in India's first game, he went on to cement the team's confidence with each outing. In the game against Argentina, he received a bad blow on the knee and was stretchered off, but returned in the very next game.
"I did improve throughout the tournament, but played in patches. I am working on my techniques, especially to save corners. I have to work on my ground balls; I can't keep charging all the time.
"It was actually Devesh Chauhan [India's No.1 goalkeeper till Adrian came along after a brilliant showing wih the junior India team] who started it. He was the first person I saw rushing out to make a save and he was pretty successful at that. Before the Olympics we designed this approach for the goalkeepers. It failed in my first attempt; that was bad luck, but now I am doing it pretty regularly," he explained.
'Outstanding,' is how India's German coach Gerard Rach described Adrian's showing in the Olympics.
But the best assessment came from Mir Ranjan Negi, former India goalkeeper and goalkeeping coach of the team for a short while in the run-up to the Olympics.
'He is a typical Mumbai boy. He's very carefree, doesn't let failures affect him too much,' said Negi.
"That's true. You cannot think about it after it is over," agrees Adrian. "It is one very important thing; you have to get over failure very fast. Even Leander Paes told me not to think too much if you concede a goal, before the matches in Athens."
The only time he was nervous, he admits, was when he made his senior debut, in Malaysia. After shining in the junior ranks, Adrian still had to find out what the game was about at the highest level. He got a taste of that in Kuala Lumpur.
"It is one of my most memorable moments. The first goal I conceded in international hockey was by [Australia's] Grant Schubbert."
He can talk at length about the 'icons' of hockey and how many each of them scored against him and how many he stopped. But the one name that matters is Sohail Abbas. That's because his name is in the books for letting in Abbas's record-breaking goal [Abbas broke Dutchman Paul Litjens's record - 267 - for most goals during the India-Pakistan series].
"Sohail is the greatest. I've conceded six goals against him, but saved more. He also scored the 250th goal against me. He is the only one who's been able to score off me whenever I have charged out."
Adrian speaks glowingly about Abbas and his own team, who, he defends, "is very good, but hasn't been able to show the results".
"But that's what matters," he chips in pragmatically.
Start assessing and you'll realize that the Mumbai boy is clipped and doesn't hover on issues like 'doing it all for my team' or of 'the great honour of playing for the country'.
It's understood. There's no point wasting time on the obvious, besides it doesn't sound too apt for a young man to delve into such sporting clichés.
For all his clinical brevity, Adrian has lived them well with a bigger heart and the rare fire to succeed. Of course, he pays attention to Jordan. NBA is his favourtie television sport!