Devindar Walmiki knows what to expect in The Netherlands when he joins HOC Gazellen Combinatie club team mates for training.
The Olympian is on a yearly contract with the Dutch club and will fly out on Wednesday, after a few weeks with family since June 2020 arrival. He was in quarantine in a hotel close to Mumbai airport for a week, followed by seven days of home quarantine.
"Restrictions rather than lockdown is the Dutch way of flattening the virus curve. They expect you to understand the severity of the crisis worldwide, instructions are obeyed. People avoid visiting places where public gather in numbers and distancing plays a very important role in a country smaller and less populated than ours,” said the midfielder-turned-defender, whose next league break will be in December.
When asked about the don’ts for hockey professionals, mandated by the club or the league, he explained: “The federation told us that training in smaller groups of five players was okay. Before entering the ground, sanitizing ourselves was mandatory, use of the club house, the changing room was barred. Players were asked to report for training in full kit, return wearing the same kit. We were told to use a different gate for entry and exit.”
Devindar added: “No contact physically between players, like one-on-one dodging, was permitted. When the numbers of cases came down, restrictions were relaxed and in June, kids in the eight to 10 age group were allowed to train, 12-16 year olds played contact hockey, 18-year-olds and older were allowed to involve in body contact during training.”
The Indian plays for HGC in the Hoofdklasse (Dutch top division), trains the club’s U-12 kids, assists the U-16 coach. Paul van Ass, the first team’s head coach, and Devindar hit it off from 2015 when the former was in charge of the Indian team at Hockey World League in Belgium. “From my goal for the senior team on HWL debut (India beat France), we have developed an understanding. When he went back, I remained in touch. This is my second season with the club and play in the right defence position. The coach feels my ability to play box-to-box is useful. I worked on my fitness and proud to involved in play for long stretches.”
Goals from him in the Hoofdklasse and European Hockey League increase the utility value. “When the situation demands, I am the right-half also, goals happened when I moved up to link up with the offence. You need to be super-fit and fast to get accepted there. Getting to play the EHL and scoring (against French club CA Montrouge) is a boost for any hockey pro,” quipped Devindar. “The level of play by leading Dutch club is so high that I can say with confidence about HGC holding our own against Asian sides, based on performance in practise games against Asian teams. Speed in play, systems and structure there is way ahead.”
Asked about training and preparation at the Wassenaar-based club, he said: “Paul van Ass comes from a teaching background and is a speaker, so team meetings at each session is different. Pace is priority, players are judged on 10m t0 30m sprints and individual fitness is planned by the trainer. Substitution can happen after five speedy bursts in a match, I last longer using Indian skills and improved fitness. The coach is happy with my street-fighter instincts, I try to adapt each day.” Teammates at the Dutch club include Maico Casella (Argentina), Seve van Ass (both Netherlands), Kenta Tanaka (Japan).
The HGC head coach is happy at the current Indian men team’s potential. “He has spoken openly at India’s potential to win an Olympic medal and making a comeback is my ambition,” said a fighting fit Devindar, awaiting a national call-up since donning India colours at the Rio Olympics.
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