BHUBANESWAR : The additional layers of security are a giveaway. A first cover — of cops holding a long, thick rope to cordon off an area — surround the immediate periphery including the exit gate outside Terminal 1 of the Biju Patnaik airport.You are a fan, waiting for a selfie? Tough luck because you stand outside this blanket. A curious onlooker? You stand outside this blanket. Come to receive someone? You stand outside this blanket.
Soon, another area is roped off. Closer to the exit, the new layer looks random at first. Its purpose soon becomes clear. The media are asked to move as close as possible to the metal barriers installed right next to the exit outside T1. After scribes follow instructions, a third human chain is formed by cops. No person is allowed inside this three-walled chain and no media is allowed to exit it. Minutes later, the beeping smartphones confirm what all the activity has been for. The Pakistan hockey team has touched down.
Sunday, December 2. The Green Shirts gave a good account of themselves on Saturday in a tight 0-1 loss to Germany. To shake away the agony of a point lost, they decide to hit town. The side has already checked out the Esplanade Mall — supposedly the biggest in the state.They want to watch a movie but can’t quite zero in on one when a suggestion is put to them. The latest Rajinikanth film — 2.0 — has released and the squad is urged to watch it in Hindi. The team votes down the idea.
Coach Rehan Butt, who has been the public face of the side, takes over the story. “No, no. We absolutely did not attempt, though there were attempts made to lure us into watching it,” he says. “The guys wanted to watch Badhaai Ho but only the morning show was available.” This, in a nutshell, is the major difference between the Pakistan side here and the ones who made the journey before. As long as the team follows safety protocol, there are no restrictions on movement.
Butt explains how the state’s security apparatus, which is deploying additional measures into service whenever the World No 15 is travelling, has been forthcoming in arranging these visits. “We have enjoyed the love of the people of Bhubaneswar,” he says. “Security has been forthcoming in saying they will arrange for our trips safely if we visit places of interest. They arrange the security the way we want it. We have so far not got any signs from them that we cannot go here or there.”
The 38-year-old, a member of the 2010 Commonwealth Games squad, compares the two journeys. “We did not (manage to go out in New Delhi) because there were a lot more restrictions. Delhi is very different...”Whenever the four-time world champions make a public appearance, the locals are there in numbers to play cheerleaders. “We inform our security in-charge about our visit and they fully cover the area,” Butt says. “They don’t close it for others but make sure security is in place for us. Best part is when people realise that the Pakistan team is there, they cheer us.”
A far cry from 2014.
Muhammad Rizwan knows the team is a bit nervous. It’s 30 hours to go for the match against Malaysia, one of the biggest for the country in recent times. Win and the game might start breathing again on its own. A loss and it may permanently condemn the game to obscurity. But he laughs off the importance of the fixture.
“The guys are positive. We understand it is vital to stress the other teams on the pitch because we don’t gain anything by stressing yourself out (laughs).” Soon the conversation shifts back to what they have been doing off the turf.
The skipper, who scoured the malls on Monday to buy sarees for families and friends, says the love and affection have given him the feeling that they haven’t left home. “We feel we have not come out of Pakistan. People here remind us of home.”
Considering the situation between the countries at the political level, it’s refreshing to watch the team socialise at a level not seen in the recent past.
On the pitch, Wednesday was an improvement. Their 1-1 draw with Malaysia does not guarantee them anything but thanks to their superior goal difference when compared to Malaysia, they could actually lose to The Netherlands in the last group stage clash and still go through with a solitary point.
On Thursday morning, if they feel up to it, they may try to watch Badhaai Ho.