27th February, 2016, Mumbai: An air of optimism hovered over the room as the U Mumba quartet along with coach E Bhaskaran, CEO Supratik Sen and owner Ronnie Screwvala took their seats at the T-1 press conference at DOME @NSCI, Mumbai. The defending champions projected a sense of confidence and coolness sitting on the 2nd position in the league table with 40 points in 10 games. While the domination displayed by the home team differs from the demolishment carried out in Season 2, individual performances like that of Rishank Devadiga and Fazel Atrachali have spurred the team to fight hard for each win.
Owner of U Mumba, Ronnie Screwvala was complimentary of the stability demonstrated by the team from the first season. "It has been a testament to coach Bhaskaran and the entire team at U Mumba along with our captain Anup Kumar that we have remained so successfully stable for so long. This success only adds to the growth of the sport which is what we are aiming at currently. The popularity of the sport has increased through an increase in the viewership which ultimately benefits the sport."
The previous two seasons saw U Mumba host their home leg as the opener for the league. This season sees them end the league before the play-offs and finals to be held in New Delhi. The captain is confident that it doesn't make a difference when their leg is scheduled. "The fans have always supported us in great numbers and we are positive that this time, it will be the same. Ending the league stage at home doesn't make much difference to us. We will strive to earn maximum points from the leg and aim to qualify for the semi-finals."
When asked about the difference from the last two seasons in terms of competition amongst teams and individual players, both Rishank Devadiga and Vishal Mane agreed that the league has become tougher in Season 3. "The competition to become the top raider and defender has definitely become tougher with new players from Services now playing in the league. Every team has brought in new players and changed their style of playing. This makes each match a good fight and exciting to play. This is also great for the league because the quality of games has risen greatly making it enjoyable for the fans to watch." elaborates Mane.
On the question of their potential opponents in the semi-finals, all eyes fell on coach Bhaskaran and his thoughts on the table toppers Patna Pirates who suffered their only defeat of the season (so far) against the defending champions. "Patna is a very good team with strong raiders like Rohit Kumar and Pardeep Narwal. They have been playing very well throughout this season and for us to beat them at home, we had to give a 110% on the mat. First of all, we need to focus on reaching the semi-finals and finishing as high as we can aim to finish. Once that is accomplished, we will work towards preparing our strategy accordingly."
While it does look certain that U Mumba are on course to qualify for the semi-finals barring a freak mishap, it will be interesting to see how their team selection will unfold with Surender Nada returning to full fitness while Fazel continues his top performance, giving the coaching staff a bit of a selection issue. "Fazel has been playing brilliantly for us since the boys went away on national duty. When we returned, we saw no reason to take him out of the team because he was comfortable under pressure situations. When the time is right, we will decide to play Surender based on the coach's advice. Ultimately, we want to play our best starting seven and as of now, Fazel is a part of that starting seven," concludes Anup.
With team morale riding high before the defending champions take on Jaipur Pink Panthers on the 28th of February, one thing remains constant - U Mumba will come out with their hearts on their sleeves in front of their home crowd to push to defend their title.