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.
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