Star-studded favourites Air India will clash with strong contenders Karnataka in the quarterfinals of the Hockey India senior national championship at 8.15am on Thursday in what will be a final before the final. On the same day, Haryana's stars will face off against the comparatively lesser-known players of Orissa at what is prime time for a hockey match, 7pm.
That the marquee match of the tournament will be played so early that it may not generate much crowd interest has left the coaches zapped.
The scheduling botch-up is not new in the tournament that has thus far attracted few people. Air India had played Uttar Pradesh in a crucial league match at 8.30am on Tuesday before virtually empty stands while Haryana met Goa in an inconsequential match at 4.30pm.
"If they had switched the timings and played the Air India-UP match in the evening, a good crowd would have turned up to watch the big stars in action. It would have been a good way to attract the spectators," said Haryana coach Sandeep Sangwan.
Stars such as Dhanraj Pillay, Sameer Dad, Shivendra Singh, Arjun Halappa, Vikram Pillay, Len Aiyappa and Gurbaz Singh are in the Air India line-up and Karnataka have Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh, VR Raghunath and Amar Aiyamma in their roster. The Air India-Karnataka match, thus, was just the right match to attract a sizable crowd, which would have also helped promote the game in a city that has lost its hockey legacy.
"Why they have scheduled matches so early is something I can't fathom. There is a rest day after the quarterfinals and they could have played till late under lights, which would have given people a chance to come an enjoy the matches," said Air India manager Vernon Lobo.
Tournament director Shakeel Qureshi expressed his helplessness and said the match-order was scheduled well in advance. With no senior officials from Hockey India here, it would be difficult for the local organisers to switch timings.