BHUBANESWAR: From question marks over their participation, to finally getting Indian visas, to the team crossing the
Wagah Border, to reaching Bhubaneswar via Delhi, every move of the Pakistan hockey team has made news. And it was no different on Monday at the
It's been more than a week since Pakistan set up camp in the Odisha capital, and understandably security around the team is so tight that they can't venture out much, other than boarding the bus from their hotel to the stadium and back. But this visit was a bit different.
The team was the guest of the Odisha Police Department that hosted them at the Fan Park in the Kalinga Stadium complex.
With garlands made of marigold flowers around their necks and a police band entertaining the players, coach Tauqeer Dar and legend Hasan Sardar, who is the current manager, an army of world press and cameramen gathered to cover the visit.
"I thank the Director General of Police (DGP) for extending such a warm welcome. We have been so well taken care of in this beautiful city," said Sardar, his statement followed by a thunderous applause.
"Hamare yahan bhi jab India ki team aati hai, hockey ki ya cricket ki, log isi tarah unke deewane hote hain (people in Pakistan also go crazy whenever Indian teams visit)," he said.
Missing among the Pakistan squad was assistant coach Rehan Butt.
"Woh hotel par hi hain (he is at the hotel)," said Muhammad Atiq Arshad.
"There's a lot of security, so we don't move around much. We went to a mall yesterday and maybe will go to another mall today," goalkeeper Imran Butt said.
During his speech, Sardar became nostalgic, recalling his visits to Bombay for the 1982 World Cup, followed by the Asian Games in Delhi later that year.
"Whenever I come to India, memories of the 1982 visit to Mumbai flash in front of my eyes. It was a lucky World Cup for me. Bombay, which is Mumbai now. We defeated (West) Germany in the final.
"Then at the 1982 Asian Games, I became good friends with Rajiv Gandhi. He was in charge of the Games and he was told by his mother, Indira Gandhi, that it was his first mission. That's what he used to tell us," Sardar reminisced.
And then the hockey wizard narrated an anecdote that warmed the heart of everyone part of the special gathering.
"After we won gold at the 1982 Asian Games, we had to go back the next day. Some of our boys wanted to do some shopping before that. So we requested that if shops can open at 9 am instead of 11 am in the morning, it will help us. By 9:30, all shops were open, and not even a single shopkeeper took money from us.
"That same love we have been getting till now. For that, on behalf of my team, I thank you from the bottom of my heart," Sardar added.
The DGP, Rajendra Prasad Sharma, then handed over mementos to every member of the Pakistan squad, rounding off the evening with a wish that will be a dream come true for every Indian and Pakistani fan.
"I hope this World Cup sees an India vs Pakistan final."