After nearly four weeks of action and 30 league matches in Hockey India League (HIL), its impact is hard to miss.
As the inaugural edition of the HIL nears its end, the question in the minds of those following the sport is how is it going to help Indian hockey? Support from sponsors and spectators has been encouraging and competition too has been intense in most matches.
The league stands out in terms of quality, and to the delight of the spectators, the availability of top players and coaches.
International Hockey Federation (FIH) president Leandro Negre is convinced HIL is here to stay.
Negre painted a rosy picture about the league and said the proposed Club World Cup next year would let people know where the HIL stood in terms of quality. “The availability of international stars and revelation of youngsters as good talent has proved to be a great combination. The seriousness of HIL has given hope that not just cricket but hockey too can give you a bright future in sports,” Negre opined.
The FIH chief also claimed a decent following for the league in Europe. “Everybody in Europe is following the HIL. It is not only important for India, but also for the world,” he said.
Nearly 2,400 Twitter followers, including several players and fans from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, give credence to Negre’s claims.
According to Uttar Pradesh Wizards coach Roelant Oltmans, who will take over as the High Performance Director of Indian hockey next week, HIL provided the up-and-coming domestic players some ‘international experience’. “Here every match is a serious game. The young players have become better in the past few weeks. So imagine what you can expect after four years.”
Thanks to HIL, 17-year-old Mandeep Singh of Ranchi Rhinos impressed everyone as a frontline player (second on the top-scorers list with eight goals) and made it to the Indian team for the Hockey World League.
Several others like Malak Singh, Satbir Singh, Ranjit Singh, Pradeep Mor and Amit Rohidas have excelled in the company of their more accomplished European teammates and made an impression.
Gagan Ajit Singh, a former dashing forward who used to play in the Dutch League, said the experience of playing alongside top foreigner players was invaluable. “Playing with international players gives you confidence,” said Gagan Ajit.
Can the league be compared with some other of its kind is open to debate? “Yes,” insisted former international Jagbir Singh, coach of Punjab Warriors. “It is beyond imagination of any world hockey player and it is good for the progress of Indian hockey. The league has created a golden path for youngsters to look at.
“It will also give the youngster the confidence of carrying a hockey stick. The visibility that hockey has gained is the biggest factor because the game had been striving for space for too long,” said Jagbir.