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Imagine a boxer who has been told before stepping into the ring that he is to fight straitjacketed. Imagine, furthermore, that he has been blinfolded as well just before the opening bell rings. Now, imagine Ric Charlesworth.
Ahead of the Mumbai Magicians' first Hockey India League game, against Delhi Waveriders in Delhi, their coach must be experiencing similar emotions with four of his 20 players packing up their gear and flying home to Pakistan, rather than gearing up for Wednesday's contest.
Already Charlesworth had a minor headache in the form of finding a suitable position for team captain and marquee-but-out-of-form player Sandeep Singh. He was contemplating playing Sandeep, a defender, in the mid-field. However, with his options narrowed down, Charlesworth might be forced to rethink that move. Indeed all of his gameplan.
"We are at a huge disadvantage," the Australian said on the eve of the match. "These four players (goalkeeper Imran Butt and midfielders Fareed Ahmed, Rashid Mahmood and Mohammad Tausiq) are some of the best players in the world, and they were central to my strategy. We picked a good team, young dynamic players and thought, by the end of the tournament, we'd be rocking. And now there is this setback," he said.
It doesn't help Mumbai are playing Delhi in their own backyard. What's more, Delhi aleady have some match experience under their belt — in fact, they won that match — which should result in a better co-ordination among their players. Mumbai, on the other hand, had their practice interrupted by Shiv Sena members back home and had to fly to Delhi earlier than scheduled. The only positive for Mumbai, perhaps, could be that they will be slightly better acclimatised than they would've been otherwise.
However, if Charlesworth was underplaying his these problems on Tuesday evening, it was because his more pressing concern was not to make the Pakistani players feel unwanted (in a country where they were all but declared personae non grata earlier in the afternoon). And so, despite knowing well that they won't feature in his plans tommorow, or for that matter during the rest of the tournament, he still included the four Pakistanis in his training session at the national stadium. In fact Charlesworth gave special attention to them, chatting with Fareed and Butt whenever they took a breather, and affectionately putting an arm around the teenager Tausiq's shoulders.