Teams from Simdega (in blue) and Gumla play a Nehru Cup qualifier at the Astroturf stadium in Morabadi on Tuesday against the backdrop of an empty gallery. (Hardeep Singh)
The national game bowed in favour of the country’s sporting religion in Ranchi.
Compared to the Champions’ League T20 hype, the ongoing three-day Nehru Cup state qualifiers at the Morabadi Astroturf stadium is scoring a dud even in a city known to love hockey.
But when demigods like the Dhonis, Rainas and Jadejas descend on a city, young stick-wielders Nirmal Ekka or Mukut Ekka — 32 district teams of boys and girls, competing for U-14 and U-17 berths —hardly get an audience.
Even during training sessions, crowds thronged JSCA greens in Dhurwa. Residents, cricket-tourists from near and far and commuters would halt, climb on vehicles and trees hoping to get a glimpse of the action inside the stadium.
On Tuesday, as CSK practised in the nets, entry inside the stadium was completely banned. It resembled a fortress. “Crowds waited outside for just a glimpse of players,” said a guard.
The 4,500-seat Astroturf stadium on Tuesday, Day 2 of the qualifiers, was a study in contrast. Officials and team members apart, not even 10 persons made up the audience.
Displaying wisdom beyond his years, East Singhbhum district hockey player Nirmal Ekka of Divya Jyoti High School Charbandiya, said: “It’s in our nature to go where there are restrictions. Places with free entry hardly get people. Which player doesn’t want cheering crowds, but we aren’t cricketers.”
Fellow player Mukut Ekka of Gumla, a student of St Ignatius School, said: “Our event (Nehru Cup trials) is big. Lekin cricket toh cricket hai. Paisa hai, glamour hai. (But cricket has money and glamour).”
So, why is it sweating it out in hockey U-17? “I love hockey. Simple. Since childhood,” he says.
A Sports Authority of India official said crowds throng JSCA stadium even on non-match days. “That’s the kind of brand value cricket enjoys. Ranchi has a cricket stadium in remote Dhurwa and a sports village in equally far-off Hotwar. But all roads lead to Dhurwa,” he said.
How can junior hockey events be made more popular?