Can Ranchi Rays pose challenge for the Hockey India League title?
Ranchi Rays’ performance so far
The third edition of the Hockey India League has just started and it is too early to predict the winner or the finalists just after two-three matches. However, one can get a fair idea of how the league might shape up as the tournament progresses. There are two teams that have impressed in the initial phase of the league - Jaypee Punjab Warriors and Ranchi Rays. The Punjab Warriors are one scary side featuring the likes of Jaap Stockmann, Sandeep Singh and SV Sunil, to name a few.
On the other hand, Ranchi Rays are playing their first season, although their predecessor, Ranchi Rhinos, won the opening season. They are a different outfit altogether. New management, coaching staff and addition of big names have made them a team to watch out for.
Ranchi failed to get a dream start in the league, after going down 6-3 in their maiden encounter against Kalinga Lancers. The scoreline might look lopsided, but the Ranchi-based outfit showed resilience and played their hearts out. The second match went in their favour as they defeated Dabang Mumbai in their den, despite trailing at one point in the match. Against Delhi Waveriders, they played a hard-fought draw and with a pinch of luck they could have snatched a victory as well.
Three games are very brief periods to judge any team, especially in a tournament like this where one can lost momentum quite easily. Still, seeing how the Rays have performed in their initial games, they have certainly emerged as underdogs in the tournament.
Areas to work on
Skipper Ashley Jackson is leading from the front and has scored two goals in the tournament, while Barry Middleton has scored three, including a brace against Mumbai. Having the likes of Middleton and Jackson has certainly given Ranchi an edge on the field. Their problems, however, are in the penalty corner conversions, which will hurt them as the league moves forward. Justin Reid-Ross should get his mojo back sooner rather than later, while the forward line should also press more and convert sharp chances.
Reid-Ross, in particular, has already missed quite a few chances in the league and with some crucial encounters coming, Ranchi would be hoping that the South African should work on his dragflicks and reduce some workload from Jackson. Same goes with the strikers, as despite beating teams on circle penetrations and ball possession, the forward line has failed to provide the final touch. Even Jackson acknowledged the opportunities that Ranchi got and insisted on converting them in upcoming matches.
“We got a lot of opportunities compared to the previous matches in the HIL,” Jackson said. “This is an excellent development for our team’s point of view. Now, we will now look at improving our conversation rate to score more goals in our upcoming matches.”
Defense is a concern
Ranchi conceded six goals in the opening match, which is no small number, but in the following match they looked more coordinated at the back and conceded just one, largely because of goalkeeper Francisco Cortes, who made some breath-taking saves. The Mahendra Singh Dhoni co-owned outfit is required to work on their defence, especially in the initial stages, as they have developed a habit of conceding first, which they would like to end.
Having said that, Ranchi is slowly developing into a coordinated unit and with seven points already in the bag, they would certainly targeting a strong finish in their maiden campaign, winning the title is still a long sight at the moment.