BHUBANESWAR, October 10: Odisha needs no introduction to hockey, and it’s not just highlighted by its rich legacy of players but the support the game receives here. On a rainy Wednesday, when cyclonic movement had left the state capital soaking since morning, the crowd — albeit not big — braved the weather to spread open their umbrellas at the revamped Kalinga Stadium, which was officially opened for the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup with an exhibition match involving present and former Indian players.
The chief minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik, inaugurated the stadium, which was followed by the match between teams led by India’s former captains Dhanraj Pillay and Dilip Tirkey, who is currently chairperson of the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.
Among the former India players besides Tirkey and Pillay were recently retired Sardar Singh, VR Raghunath, Jugraj Singh, Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh and Viren Rasquinha besides others.
“2004 ke baad pehli baar No. 9 pehan kar khel raha hoon (playing wearing No. 9 for the first time since 2004),” said Pillay. “My body is always ready to play hockey, and Bhubaneswar is a special place to do that,” he said.
Tirkey tried to be a little cheeky, just to gee up the thin crowd as rain relented to let the ball move freely on the newly-laid turf.
“Home crowd hamare saath hi hai (the home crowd is with us). Since 2009, I am playing for the first time. I want to thank the crowd that has come to watch us despite bad weather,” the local man said.
Pillay lurking as centre forward, Rasquinha shepherding the midfield and Tirkey holding the defence together, or Deepak injecting the ball and Jugraj Singh with his signature headband trying to flick a penalty corner – it was hockey redux in every sense. And moments like Pillay passing the ball back to Sardar was a first for the hockey fans.
For the sake of record books, Dilip Tirkey XI won the match 2-1; but it was moments like Thakur scoring two goals, Jugraj celebrating with his former team-mate and PR Sreejesh dancing to the chants of “Sreejesh…Sreejesh” that the crowd took back home as memories to cherish.
Gurjant Singh scored for Dhanraj Pillay XI.
At the sound of full-time whistle, Sreejesh didn’t walk off to the dug-out. The wall of Indian defence went up to the crowd behind him and answered the request for selfies.
Among the salient features of the refurbished stadium are the capacity that has been upped from 8000 earlier to 15,000 now with the number of stands increased to four, relaid turf at both the main arena and the practice pitch, four dressing rooms and the new press as well hospitality boxes.
Come November 28, all these will be pressed into service 24×7 until the World Cup concludes on December 16. (ToI)