The hockey World Cup began on a happy note for India with players and coach all smiles after the win against Spain in the opener. The end was anything but nice with India failing to qualify to the quarterfinals and Graham Reid resigning a day after the team's campaign came to an end.
The tournament might not have been a success for India, but off the field, it made it certainly made an impact.
Here are a few personal reflections on the tournament:
Celebrating hockey, Odisha style
Both Bhubaneswar and Rourkela were nicely decked up for the World Cup. Since both are planned cities with wide roads and neatly divided residential sectors, the decorations actually looked good.
Outside the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium, the walls were painted with the murals of all the team captains at the World Cup. There were also murals celebrating the tribal identity of the area across the city.
Now, as you approach the stadium from Rourkela airport, you'll spot a giant statue of a hockey player inside a small park. It didn't have a name. It was not dedicated to any player. Just a tall statue dedicated to the hockey players of the region.
A personal favourite of this writer was a small mural of legendary Dhyan Chand on the entrance of Rourkela railway station.
Hosting hockey tournaments is not new for Odisha. The state government pulled out all the stops to make the event a success -- most importantly taking fans into account.
Adjacent to both Kalinga and the Birsa Munda stadiums, the organisers put out fan parks, known as Olly's Land -- based on the official mascot of the tournament Olly (Olive Ridley sea turtles). Olly's Land was an entertainment zone for people of all ages: with fancy lights decorations, events held for the kids, artists putting on musical shows, hockey merchandise on sale, and plenty of (delicious) local food. Oh, and there was also a big screen showing the matches.
The objective was to offer something more to the casual fans other than just the sport. Especially considering how boring it could have gotten on days where there were four consecutive matches in a stadium. With Olly Land, spectators had the option of taking a break and exploring other things at leisure. All you needed for entry was the match day ticket.
Special Hockey World Cup trains - one of a kind
To help the World Cup reach further than ever, the Indian Railways announced two special trains: starting from Bhubaneswar and Puri to Rourkela. Special dedicated just for one sporting event? That's going above and beyond... that's something rather special.
The fan-response vindicated the decision: the trains were a big hit with the crowd, at least on the match days. Indeed, it was heartening to see people travelling from places like Dhenkanal, Sambalpur, Talcher and Angul for even India's classification matches. The railways has always been the primary artery that connects the hinterlands of this vast country: and this time it was used brilliantly to make one of India's old loves more accessible to its citizens.
Although the train timings lived up to the late standards of the Indian Railways, the journey to the destination was a pretty comfortable one.
The oddity of the classification stage
A handful of journalists - three, in fact - made it to Rourkela before India's match against Japan, aiming to talk to the players and the coach. A pre-match press conference was a norm for India's matches, but those norms didn't exist for two days. No press conferences, no interactions, no questions about India getting knocked out in the crossover stage. Understandable? Sure.
On the eve of the match, the players steered clear of journalists by walking out of the training pitch's side gate. One could almost assume the bus present outside the training pitch was a decoy...
The players did a fair bit of talking on the pitch, though, as they beat Japan rather comprehensively. After which Reid and players did talk to the media.
They spoke well, especially the senior players who remained positive. In contrast to the start of the tournament though, there were no smiles. Understandable, of course.
A huge shout-out to the off-field teams
The Indian national team didn't perform the way they hoped to but there were other successful local teams around the tournament.
The officials, volunteers, media coordinators, security personnel, housekeeping staff, caterers, drivers et al worked in tandem to make this World Cup work.
Big events like the World Cup can be an exhausting experience for everybody involved. It reaches a point where they are waiting for the tournament to just end. There are good days and bad days. Maybe what makes it slightly better is the realisation that they're not alone; that they have the support of their teammates.
Isn't that the true essence of a team?