Dylan Cleaver on sport
Sport analysis and comment from Dylan Cleaver

Dylan Cleaver: Sport triumphs over politics


It was obvious this was going to be a little bit different from the moment you stepped off the bus at Major Dhyan Chand Stadium.

For a start, a stream of people was approaching the gates, not a common sight at these gaffe-prone Games.

Then there was the security. What had been a comforting curtain was suddenly a smothering blanket.

There were at least 50 police and security personnel at this one gate.

Three people at different points checked your accreditation before you entered, you were triple-frisked and then had to empty out your bag and turn on your laptop to prove it was not intended for malevolent purposes.

You were then handed a flyer that reassuringly pointed out the emergency evacuation procedures and had helpful tips like not approaching unattended articles and informing the police if you saw anybody suspicious.

If you weren't paranoid before you arrived at the India-Pakistan hockey game, you were by the time you took your seat.

As the Pakistan and India players warmed up for their crucial clash - the winner faced a semifinal with England, the loser elimination and opprobrium - a list of non-permissible items was flashed on the large screens at either end of the stadium.

They included the usual aerosols, replica guns, fireworks and motorcycle helmets, but also the rather incongruous skateboards. You might as well ban scuba equipment, doll's houses and Hammond organs too.

This game had been marked as a potential powderkeg since the draw was released.

India and Pakistan have a relationship that is too complex to neatly summarise other than to say the wounds caused by the 1947 Partition have never fully healed.

Add in the importance of the match and officials were understandably worried there could be violence.

As it turns out, they needn't have worried.

Not only did the two sides play out a magnificent spectacle of open, exciting hockey, they did so without a hint of antagonism, unlike when they met in Melbourne four years ago.

Pakistan fielded eight Muhammads, India seven Singhs.

Fortunately for the home crowd, it was the Singhs on song early. Sandeep Singh scored twice, followed by some brilliance from Shivendra Singh, before Saravanjit Singh made it 4-0.

That left Pakistan with a mountain to climb, but if the mountain won't come to Muhammad, then ... you know the rest. Muhammad Imran scored, closely followed by Muhammad Rizwan and halftime came with the match poised at 4-2.

The break saw a clamour at one end of the ground. Police cordoned off a section and urged calm. It was not clear what the trouble was, but you suspect someone had started skateboarding.

Disturbance quelled, attention turned once more to the hockey and India did not disappoint. By fulltime it was 7-4, leaving the spectator in the seat next door to wonder aloud if hockey was always that good.

It's not. This was something special. Something a bit bigger than the game itself. You left the stadium with warm fuzzies, pondering sport's potential to be a healing force as the locals went singing into the night.

- NZ Herald

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