When sufficient number of people thronged the place, a request was formally delivered to the local MLA and Minister, Public Works to grace the event as the Chief Guest. Having arrived in advance, he was busy, interacting with his constituents in a Government Guest House.
The usual pomp and show was visible at the jampacked ground. The Minister was accorded a traditional welcome. After a ‘tika’ was applied on his forehead, he made the waiting girls, representing three communities, richer by Rs. 300/ each. Thereafter, a band of well dressed teenaged boys played a soothing tune in the middle of the ground.
To start the process, the Minister was introduced to the rival captains and their team-mates. Next, it was the turn of the Minister to kick the new ball. The way he did it, the onlookers got an inkling of the sportsmanship possessed by him in past.
The match began with a fair degree of fun and enthusiasm. It took some time before the spectators noticed the presence of Bhaichung Bhutia, the local hero and the India Skipper playing for the DO. Bhaichung and a few erstwhile players showed their skill and acumen right from kick-off. As a result, the LG looked perturbed, if not shattered. Since the weather was fine, natural play was very much possible. Nevertheless, as per usual experience in this kind of game, a few felt breathless, to start with. The spectators had turned up for the occasion dressed in their attractive ethnic outfits and accessories. Like any other place, the children formed the largest group.
Despite fast movement of the ball coupled with good footwork, the first twenty five minutes were devoid of any result. By this time, however, a kind of manifest division was seen among the jubilant spectators. While the stand facing Youth Hostel was cheering the DO, those occupying the West and North stand were seen shouting for the LG. Just before the whistle for the breather, Bhaichung, aided by a superb pass from Chettri, the upcoming star, could reach deep inside the goal area of the LG. He got past the athletic goalkeeper and scored a remarkable field goal. Apart from the visual treat and the thunderous applause, same was confirmed by the Referee in his typical dancing style. The spectators now had everything to cheer and relish. In addition to giving an upper edge to OT, it restored the interest in the game, which, so to say, was waning, thanks to goalless twenty five minutes.
An unusual warmth and bonhomie was witnessed during the interval. Both the teams were offered glucose, water, squash, and juices in addition to unusual items-the delicious steamed momos and appetizing chicken legs. Discussions took place on the strategy to be followed in the later half. The idea was not only to score goals but also provide adequate humour and entertainment to the festive crowd, watching the game with a rapt attention.
Unlike in regular matches, the referee volunteered to play a second fiddle in the second half. The younger but experienced Lineman, therefore, walked into his exalted shoes with a beaming face. The play, nonetheless, could resume only after the new referee took a “bathroom break”, something he could have easily availed of during the interval. Since plenty of time was available, he was allowed this unforeseen liberty.
With the passage of time, the stamina of the players began getting exhausted. Certain sections of the crowd, however, could discover novel ways to boost the morale of their respective teams.
The LG displayed a picture of renewed confidence with fresh young blood entering their ranks. Their teamwork and occasional speed bore fruits in the last ten minutes. Though they could not score a field goal, Garjaman Gurung, their oldest player, backed brilliantly by a Jorethang Sardar, managed to convert a penalty corner with perfection. With this goal, things became more interesting.
At the time of a free kick, the strategy of DO was discussed in a ‘professional ‘fashion, even when they exceeded the permitted time. The field placements also underwent a change with more active players occupying the forward line and the hefty and tired ones relegated as defenders. DO’s effective goalkeeper too had to be replaced to enable him to attend to an emergency. Many of them had to be politely requested, in addition, not to indulge in any conversation with the spectators.
At last, the second goal for DO was scored by Shukla, their captain, as a result of a fine pass by the combined initiatives of Chhetri and Bhaichung. Even after confirming the same and Shukla being hugged and lifted by the fellow players, he won’t release the ball. Afterall, it was a defining moment for his team. The referee, however, showed his reluctance to pronounce the desperately needed verdict in their favour. He ruled that the Captain was ‘off side’. Same was later confirmed by his colleague.
The sudden bout of pleasure, however, vanished in thin air. Shukla felt being awakened by Tom, his cute, quiet cat. He discovered that he was not in Namchi or any other part of Sikkim. Rather, he was sleeping to glory in New Delhi. May be, he had a really sound sleep which was instrumental in this nice dream. Even if it was momentary, not only he smiled, he felt elated as well. He was in a different world. The dream, per se, brought back sweet memories of the past. Shukla made no mistake in ringing up Bhaichung Bhutia and eloquently shared the experience of a match that never took place. Fresh from his Asia Cup triumph, Bhaichung smiled and reciprocated his feelings.