"The crowd of the Kalinga Stadium was up on their feet as soon as the referee signalled the penalty corner. The clock on the giant screen in the stadium was ticking 40, 39, 38 secs and so on. While teams were busy planning, the spectators were wearing a variety of expressions. Worried, excited, sceptical, poker-faced and optimistic are some of them I could recall.
After the timeout, the referee whistled everyone's attention into the game. The defenders of the corner-taking team and forwards of the opposition were moved to the center line whereas defenders of the latter were guarding the goal-post with goal-keeper and forwards of the former patrolling the striking/shooting circle.
On the whistle, the player at the back line bent down, kept one foot within the circle as per the rule and rushed the ball into play.
The attacking player patrolling over the shooting circle stopped the ball well beyond the circle with a horizontal stick, then specialist dragged the ball with full force into the circle and shot at the lower plank of the goal post.
With the sound of the ball striking the plank the entire Kalinga Stadium came alive and erupted into a rare joy. Neither the referee's whistle was audible nor my own sound.
Such were the scenes in Kalinga Stadium during the Argentina vs France pool match at the Hockey World Cup 2018.
The Temple City - Bhubaneswar
The ongoing Men's Hockey World Cup at Bhubaneswar is an absolutely spectator's delight in the foggy and frigid nights of winter.
A jam-packed stadium supporting the foreign teams is seldom to find anywhere in the world, Bhubaneswar is scripting a history here. The love for hockey in these people is unquestionably overwhelming.
The capital city of Odisha is not as fast-paced as metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru but it certainly has its own charm to entice the travellers during this period.
It is a confluence of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain heritage boasting of some of the finest Kalingan temples. Rich in history, Bhubaneswar works as a perfect tourist destination and the host of the Hockey World Cup.
The city comes alive as the sundown. People leave their offices in a hurry to grab the tickets. Traffic starts building up on roads, vehicle entries are blocked near the game venue, and an ample police force is deployed to the stadium for safety reasons.
So, the entire weight of the temple city begins to shift towards the Kalinga Stadium as over 20,000 people root for the same game over the next couple of hours.
Hockey & History
Hockey is the most successful game of India at the international stage with 11 medals in Olympics and a solitary gold in World Cups.
The sport has always made us proud of its achievements on either side of the Independence declaration. There was no other team as competitive as India for almost three decades in the game except 'Pakistan' that is post-independence.
It inspired people beyond the cast, creed, colour and religion. It encouraged people to become independent. It became their hope. It also instilled the sense of oneness or sense of pride among individuals.
There is no social boundary, cultural indifference, divide, rule and racial barriers in the sport. It's free from all boundaries.
Saddened by India's performance in the major events, the game has hit the worst in last four decades or so. No World Cup title, Olympic medal or Champions Trophy to its name, Hockey in India was slowly but certainly losing its grip on the popularity front.
A big thank to 'Naveen Patnaik', the Chief Minister of Odisha for his relentless effort to make hockey a common household name not only in Odisha but also in other parts of the nation. It may be a work in the progress, but traces of its success can be seen in the Indian Hockey.
The support of unprecedented local crowd on home turf have pushed Indian Hockey Team to perform better with every passing game.
Manpreet Singh & Co. carrying their good form to the world cup had certainly made us all believe in their commitments to bring back the lost pride to India, but unfortunately, Netherlands ruined the party.
India lost to the Netherlands in quarters by 1-2 and missed yet another chance to make it to the semifinals.
While players are on national duty, administrators busy planning, I urge to the entire sports fraternity, that the dynamic game of hockey is very captivating and exciting to watch.
It is not limited to the dribbling, deflections, scoops, flicks, drives and hits. It is a mean of social connect.
It is our game, our pride. Hockey brought so many laurels to the nation, became the face of India at Olympics and produced so many role models over the years.
Still, the spectacular game of hockey is struggling for its existence and yearning its fans for support.
Neither Hockey players carry high profile like Cricketers in India, nor they receive high paychecks. But they carry our national flag with pride and wear blue with authenticity. Let's support this magnificent game together.
With not so deep domestic competition in India, Hockey India League (HIL) remains the only option to discover the young talent and the growth of hockey, but unfortunately, due to some unclear reasons, Hockey India has scrapped it for 2018. The HIL will resume in 2019 with a new five-a-side format replacing the traditional format.
The recent developments might seem promising, but that won't be enough for the sustainability and setting a hockey culture.
We are still far from our quest; 'Olympic Gold', and the next one year is going to be vital for Tokyo 2020 preparations.
Our unflinching support in such a situation is paramount and that would definitely let our players breathe freely and concentrate on the upcoming battles. Hope, this beautiful game grows leaps and bound with the time, and flourish in every corner of the nation.