Ranchi braves lathis for hockey

FP

Tucked away in one corner of Morabadi in old Ranchi, the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium seems to be built as an afterthought when compared to its much-grander namesake that stands next door: the Birsa Munda Football Stadium.

This weekend, however, the tiny 5,000-seater hockey arena is set to bask in the limelight, as it has done over the last one month, while the 35,000-capacity football ground will get the leftover. Such has been the craze for the Hockey India League in the Jharkhand capital that all six league matches staged here were sold out.

And while 5,000 may not be the kind of number to declare an event successful, an equal number of fans were turned away empty handed from the ticket counters for the semi-finals and finals to be played on Saturday and Sunday respectively, vouching for the fact that HIL seems to have struck a chord with the hockey loving people here.

"I have been at all five venues and I can say that Ranchi has the best atmosphere for hockey. It's also been the best-attended venue," said Ranchi Rhinos' South African coach Gregg Clark.

The demand for tickets, priced Rs 60 to Rs 2,000, peaked on Thursday as the ticket window opened briefly for the semi-finals and finals. With requests for passes also at an all-time high, the availability of seats was correspondingly lower. Inevitably, it led to chaos and resulted in a lathi-charge.

Later, the organisers announced that a large screen will be erected in the adjacent football stadium to accommodate those who couldn't get tickets. This is a scenario that has seldom been seen outside of cricket in the country, and almost never - at least in recent memory - in hockey.

Assured of a grand finale to what has been a successful first edition of the tournament, Hockey India might allow themselves a pat on the back. However, this move to have both semi-finals and the final in Ranchi was borne out of logistical necessity than foresight. With the semis and the final on back-to-back dates, it was decided during the course of the tournament to have the two-day knockout stage at the same venue. After early reports of the excitement HIL had generated in Ranchi, it was chosen to host both the semis and the final.

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