CHANDIGARH: The pom-pom girls were missing. There was no foot-tapping music to set the mood. And everything was freezing around you. PHL Part II looked destined for a cold, very cold start. But by the time Maratha Warriors walked out smiling from the turf bathed in floodlight, it was obvious the city had some very warm hearts beating for the stick game.

On a night when most men and women would have preferred watching the game in their cosy living rooms, a hot cup of coffee in their hands, about 4,000 braved the numbing winds blowing across the Sector 42 Stadium here and enjoyed a pulsating game of hockey.

There were the opening day glitches – the electronic scoreboard refused to wake up, and the hooter that howled every time a time-out was called was a source of great confusion. Many young boys were seen trying to confirm the score after the game. These are issues the organisers will have to address, and fast. There were questions raised about the timing (severe winter) of the event too. However, the response on Day One was pleasantly surprising.

It felt good to see a 14-year-old point out the Pakistani players on the field to his father. There were others who wanted Jorge Lombi’s autograph, even though the Argentinian looked lost on the turf today.

However, the man who stood out today for his commitment to the game was Dhanraj Pillay. He played an energy-sapping Surjit hockey final (for Indian Airlines) in the afternoon in Jalandhar and then travelled three hours to reach Chandigarh for the evening PHL game. He could have been forgiven for a listless display but the doughty player who seems to be getting younger everyday, played a great game almost all of 70 minutes to help his team win.

He played the role of a playmaker to perfection, and even had a hand in a goal. How does he does it all at the age of 36? Pillay had a simple answer: “God helped me do it. I wanted to win both the games today. He gave me the energy to give my best. I did not want to disappoint my fans watching the game all over the country.”

For his fans it was an amazing show. For the star, it was like just another day in the office. Well, almost.



By Anupama

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