International hockey back in Chennai after 5661 days
CHENNAI: International hockey returns to the city after a gap of 5,661 days. The last international the city hosted — also at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in Egmore — came on January 31, 2008, when Belgium beat India 3-2 in the last of the five-match bilateral series before the team was set to depart for an Olympic qualifier in Chile. That drought will be broken at 4.00 PM on Thursday when South Korea face Japan in the opening match of the seventh edition of the Asian Champions Trophy.
The Tamil Nadu government has been on a mission to host international events in the state. To get back hockey, a delegation had travelled to Odisha during the World Cup earlier this year. When the idea of hosting the Asian Champions Trophy was mooted, it didn't face much of a hindrance.
To host the tournament itself, the MRK Stadium has undergone a sea change. A practice turf has come up (a prerequisite), the stadium itself has received several new coats of paint, the main turf has been re-laid to meet elite-level standards. Even otherwise, the stadium needed a face-lift. It was in various stages of disrepair for much of the last decade. The total cost of the project is believed to be around Rs 20 crore.
One day out, it was hard to miss the beehive of activity in and around the Stadium. The Gandhi-Irwin Road which houses the venue has seen several new hockey-themed murals come up. The smell of fresh paint is still lingering in the air, Bomman (the tournament mascot, named after one of the protagonists in the Oscar-winning Elephant Whisperers) is an ever-present.
V Baskaran, India's Olympic-winning captain from 1980 (Moscow), is happy that the sport is coming back to a place that has a huge fan following (most of Chennai's hockey players are from the area surrounding MRK Stadium). The city has another reason to cheer on Thursday night.
When they sing the anthems just before pushback against China, S Karthi will be among the players. The young forward is the only TN player in the national team and it's noteworthy to mention that no player from the state has managed to hold down a national berth for over the last decade. The newly spruced-up venue and, Karthi, may be the faces of a new berth. Tickets -- Rs 300, Rs 400 and Rs 500 - are still available.