HIL: Time for triumphant Jaypee Punjab Warriors to savour HIL glory
It has taken four years for Jaypee Punjab Warriors to finally ‘corner glory’ at the Hockey India League. The road to glory for the Punjab outfit has been replete with cases of ‘so near and so far.’
Let’s understand one thing – the Warriors had the cream of the domestic and international players when they took the pitch in the inaugural edition in 2013. Jaypee Punjab Warriors had big names like Jamie Dwyer, SV Sunil, Dharamvir Singh, Chris Ciriello, Simon Orchard, and Mark Knowles, but all they managed was a fourth-place finish in the 2013 edition.
The Punjab outfit was further boosted with the country’s ace drag-flicker joining their ranks in the edition. The Warriors looked like working on their shortcomings and made it to their maiden final – but it was a case of coming agonisingly close to a title win as they lost to Delhi Waveriders in a penalty shootout.
The 2015 Hockey India League panned out to be a heartbreak for Jaypee Punjab Warriors – they entered their second consecutive final, but ran in to a tenacious Ranchi Rays side, and finished runners-up losing again in a penalty shootout.
So, when the Warriors took the pitch for the 4th Coal India Hockey India League, the Barry Dancer-coached side knew they had to get the ‘final losing’ monkey off their backs. Ideally, the final jinx needed to be vanquished and the Warriors clearly appeared hungry than before.
Granted that the Warriors have let off several key players like Jamie Dwyer, Kieren Govers, Sandeep Singh, Dharamvir Singh, and Jaap Stockmann, the team still has a potent feel about it. Guys like Matt Gohdes, Jake Whetton and Mark Gleghorne did not make anyone feel like the Warriors were hit hard by the exit of some of their key players.
Warriors break the jinx of the final
Winning the first game of the league is always a good thing for the morale, and when the win comes against the defending champions Ranchi Rays – the 2-0 home win surely indicates that the Warriors were better prepared than most other teams.
Without diluting the importance of any side, it has to be said that the biggest resistance for the Punjab outfit was expected from Ranchi Rays and Delhi Waveriders. The Warriors offered a stiff fight in their away game against the Rays and lost narrowly 4-5.
Even against Delhi Waveriders, the Punjab-side looked in fine fettle losing their home game by the skin of their teeth 4-5. But in their away game, the Warriors ensured it was a no contest, cantering home to a 5-2 win.
Hockey fans may have wanted their favourite teams to win the 2016 HIL, but Jaypee Punjab Warriors’ resolve of ending the HIL title drought was not be ignored. The Punjab side turned their semifinal against Delhi Waveriders into a match that was far from being a down-to-the-wire affair, by coming back from an early deficit to pull off a convincing 3-1 win.
Having featured in two nerve-wracking shootouts in the finals of the 2014 and 2015 editions, the Warriors were pretty clear with their strategy – try and win in regulation time as shootouts have not been exactly lucky for them.
Armaan Qureshi’s early goal set them up, and although the Kalinga Lancers equalised before half-time, the teeming confidence of the Warriors came to the fore as they sealed the game with two goals in three minutes in the third quarter, leaving the whole fourth quarter for the Lancers with much catching up to do.
Clearly, Jaypee Punjab Warriors’ HIL glory will be much cherished as it has come after two abortive attempts in 2014 and 2015. Let the yellow and blue brigade the savour the moment for now.