In 2005, the Premier Hockey League (PHL) had given us the first taste of a professional league, featuring a perky format studded with innovations and a small group of foreign players playing for teams that were essentially Indian in name and nature.
During its four years of existence, the PHL had created a loyal fan-following and continued as a prominent event in the sports calendar. The World Series Hockey (WSH) tried to make some impression in its only edition last year before the Hero Hockey India League (HIL), featuring five teams, arrived on the scene with full force.
In terms of conduct of the league and involvement of the players, the HIL, modelled on the Indian Premier League (IPL), is more professionally managed than the previous leagues. All eyes will track the progress of the league, starting with the clash between Delhi Waveriders and Jaypee Warriors Punjab at the National Stadium here on Monday.
With HIL taking its baby steps, the journey is expected to be similar for each side.
“Everybody knows about the main players. But, no one knows how they will perform in various teams, in different combinations. So every side is going to adopt a cautious approach in the beginning, trying to gauge its opponents,” said Waveriders’ coach A.K. Bansal, who had coached the Orissa Steelers to title win in the 2007 edition of the PHL.
Bansal, however, was confident about his side against Warriors. “Our team has a nice balance of Indian and foreign players. Punjab relies more on its foreign recruits.”
Defender Tim Jenniskens will replace fellow Dutchman Taeke Taekema in the Waveriders team as the ace drag-flicker has been ruled out for the entire event due to a back injury.
Lovedeep Singh will take the place of full back Rahul Shilpkar, who has been declared unfit due to a knee injury.
Waveriders, led by the versatile Sardar Singh, will look forward to blunt the Warriors’ attack headed by the charismatic Jamie Dwyer and the swift S.V. Sunil.
The host’s success will depend on how soon its frontline, consisting of players from five foreign countries and Bansal’s trusted lieutenants Gurvinder Singh Chandi and Danish Mujtaba, finds a rhythm and initiates counterattacks.
Reliance on overseas players
Warriors, coached by Australian Barry Dancer, would bank heavily on its overseas players to guard its citadel. Two Aussies, Mark Knowles and Christopher Ciriello, and a Pakistani, Kashif Shah, in the defence and a couple of Australians, Simon Orchad and Rob Hammond, in the midfield specifies Dancer’s priorities. “We will keep a watch on Sardar,” warned Dancer.
Meanwhile, HIL chairman Narinder Batra and Hero MotoCorp managing director Pawan Munjal unveiled the HIL trophy on Sunday. According to Batra, the most promising player of the event would stand to get Rs. 20 lakh. The man-of-the-match award would carry Rs. 25,000, while the man-of-the-tournament honour would offer Rs. 25 lakh. The ‘Hero goal of the match’ award would make a scorer richer by Rs. 25,000.
In every match, five spectators would have the opportunity to participate in the ‘Airtel golden goal contest’ and win Rs. 10,000 each.