Over on the practice pitch, Sardar Singh & Co, having tried hard to stick to coach Ajay Bansal's directive of making quick passes through the practice session, wound up quite early. But on the eve of the inaugural Hockey India League (HIL), the real eyeball-grabbing action was happening high above the central turf of the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.With 24 hours to go for the opening ceremony, a predictable and somewhat chaotic melee of activity was in progress - the lighting effects were being tested, the PA system kept blaring the theme song of the home team, the Delhi Wave Riders, the technicians were busy setting up the equipment. But it was a pretty lady harnessed to a balloon hovering high in the air that drew the attention of everyone present.
That she will take flight on Monday evening is, barring some unforeseeable snafu, a certainty - the countless hours of practice, Sunday's dress rehearsal included, have ensured that.
But the bigger question deals with the symbolic flight of a sport that was once the pride of India - coming as it does less than six months after the debacle at the London Olympics, all eyes are on this league and whether it will actually bring about a reversal in the fortunes of Indian hockey.
Not the first time
This is not the first attempt at a franchise-based league to revive the popularity of India's de facto national sport. Back when it was the governing body, the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) launch-ed the Premier Hockey League, which ran from 2005 to 2008; last year, the IHF conducted the rebel World Series Hockey.
HIL, a Hockey India (HI) initiative, promises to be different on multiple counts. The players' salaries, while not exactly comparable with cricket, are significantly lucrative, and the event is sanctioned by the FIH. With a dedicated window in the international calendar of the governing body of world hockey, many top players who otherwise ply their trade in European leagues, like the current FIH Player of the Year Moritz Fuertse of Germany, have come over.
All this will cease to matter, though, if HIL does not have the desired impact on the Indian national team.
Mumbai: Four Pakistan players signed by Mumbai Magicians for the Hockey India League (HIL) had to be whisked away from the Mahindra Hockey stadium after Shiv Sena protesters barged into the venue on Sunday afternoon.
Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmad, Mohammad Tousiq and Imran Butt had reached Mumbai on Saturday night and were in the dressing room when more than 100 Shiv Sena workers stormed into the stadium with placards, chanting anti-Pakistan slogans. The team was supposed to play a practice match, which had to be called off. A huge posse of police was deployed at the venue after the Shiv Sainiks left.