Somehow, these ‘leagues’ bring a freshness to the eye. When your country isn’t involved, you are able to watch the sport for the pure joy of it. Leagues allow you to switch loyalties, have a second and a third team to offer allegiance to. For followers of Indian hockey, who live with despair for seasons together, the Hockey India League (HIL ) should be welcome change.
Seven years ago, the Premier Hockey League (PHL) was launched to restore interest in the game. But it fell out with the International Hockey Federation (IHF) and also proved to be financially unsustainable. Thus, Dutch midfielder Teun De Nooijer’s assertion that the HIL will be a “game changer” seems premature. One hopes that the HIL will not meet the same fate as the PHL. Sure, it will never match the IPL’s following and glamour quotient — let’s not even think of the moolah.
The HIL, conceptualised by Hockey India, has the blessings of the IHF however.
There’s hardly anything to choose among the squads that comprise the best 120 players in the world. Clear favourite? Hard to pick.
The league kicks off with the opening encounter betweenDelhi Waveriders and Jaypee Punjab Warriors at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium today.
Jaypee Punjab Warriors has a good mix of Indian and foreign players. Jamie Dwyer and foreign stars such as Jaap Stockmann, Mark Knowles, Simon Orchard and Kieran Govers make for a star-studded line-up. Not to miss the experienced Ignace Tirkey and Bharat Chetri and the emerging players such as Gurmail Singh, Gaganpreet Singh and Jarmanpreet Singh.
Coach Barry Dancer said, “We have enjoyed one good week of preparation and were very warmly welcomed and supported in Jalandhar, our home base. The team is very strong and balanced.”
Skipper Dwyer said, “This is a group of brilliant players, and we have used the available time to bond well together on and off the field. On the field, we have tried to keep the combinations right, so that we prepare as best as we can.”
Delhi Waveriders coach AK Bansal said marking Dwyer would be the key. “We will try to restrict Jamie at all sides of the ground as he is the key playmaker and very quick,” Bansal said.
Skipper Sardar Singh is undoubtedly their marquee player. Mumbai’s Yuvraj Walmiki has established his credentials at various levels in the last year-and-a-half. Their top foreign players Pirmin Blaak and Nicolas Jacobi add heft to the squad.
Bansal believes goalkeeping is Waveriders’ strength. “In German Nicolas Jacobi and Dutch Pirmin Blaak we have two of the best keepers in the world,” he said.
Singh felt the experienced players have a role in driving the team. “The senior players along with the coaches and the chief advisor have already had sessions where we have talked about strategy and game plans. The onus will be on the players to perform because a coach can only guide us. Bansal and Ajit Pal Singh have a wealth of experience and we are not missing a foreign coach,” he said.
Over to the criss-cross of sticks.