Eight days and ten matches down the line, it is evident that the ongoing Hockey India League has neither set the stands on fire nor made a resounding impact at the broader level, despite having some of the best international players, coaches and all India players on board. Whether it will reach the heights of popularity scaled by the postponed World Series Hockey remains to be seen.
But if the 10-goal humdinger between Mumbai Magicians and table toppers Delhi Waveriders staged in India’s commercial capital the other night is any indication, better days are yet to come.
Teething problems and lack of co-ordination due to the paucity of time spent together and the gap between top international talents and the local bunch has meant that the teams and players have failed to play to their full potential, or dished out inconsistent performances for the most part. An example is Delhi Waveriders and Indian captain Sardar Singh, who essayed a virtuoso role in the inaugural match but has since been unable to lift his game to the same exacting standards in subsequent outings.
The one department where the players have consistently been at the top of their game is goalkeeping, with the international brigade of Jaap Stockman, Nicolas Jacobi, Francisco Cortes and George Bazeley giving a fine demonstration of the art of shot stopping. Even our own PR Sreejesh has held his own up in such exalted company and is not to blame for the record number of goals the Mumbai Magicians have conceded – but for his heroics, the tally could have been much higher!
Table toppers Delhi have been the team to beat, thanks to the solidity of their defence manned by Rupinder Pal Singh, Tim Jenniskens and the impressive Andrea Mir Bel, whose attacking runs on the left flank have added zing to the Delhi bling. A K Bansal’s capital side has thrived on the scorching pace of their attacks in which the incisive Oscar Deecke, Lloyd Norris Jones, Simon Child and Matt Gohdes have linked up effectively with schemers Gurvinder Singh Chandi, Danish Mujtaba and impressive youngsters Akashdeep Singh and Imran Khan. The vastly experienced Bansal, a former national coach who won the Premier Hockey League with the Orissa Steelers in 2006, is the only Indian and least storied coach in the HIL but he has made his ‘rainbow coalition’ (players from seven different countries, including India) ride the initial momentum.
Under South African national coach Gregg Clark, Ranchi Rhinos have looked most impressive; compact in defence with their impressive intermediate line in which Moritz Feurtse is the lynch pin, being the key to their prospects — it helps them keep possession and dominate the midfield exchanges. Ashley Jackson, the ace drag flicker, has come to the rescue when required but the penalty corner variation through which Austin Smith scored against Mumbai, will rank as one of the best goals in the league. Their forward line where young Mandeep Singh has found his mark, is not as formidable though, and Floris Evers and Nick Wilson will have to contribute if the Jharkhandis must prosper.
Unbeaten Uttar Pradesh Wizards (so too are the Waveriders) who also play in the European style of the Rhinos, have been a mixed bag. Skipper V. R. Raghunath is proving to be the trump card with four penalty corner conversions and an inspirational presence whether in defence or the half-line. Harbir Singh is shaping up as a bright prospect in defence – though he must curb his impetuosity – and has jelled well with Luke Doerner and Jolie Wouter, one of the five Dutchman in Roelant Oltman’s (a former alumni of the WSH) squad. But more wizardry is expected of their midfield and more proclivity for goals from the forward line in which only Joeren Hertzberger has found the mark (twice). Surely, it is time for the legendary but ageing Teun de Nooijer, world’s highest capped player, to come to Saharashri’s rescue!
Ironically, the two teams doing badly are both coached by Australians, though to be charitable to the redoubtable Ric Charlesworth, his plans got scuppered due to the sudden exit of his Pakistani midfielders, leaving a huge gap to fill at shortest notice. But it is the inability of Barry Dancer’s lions from Punjab to touch the dizzying heights expected from the star-studded line up at his command, that is most perplexing. Despite having a crack forward line comprising Jamie Dwyer, Kieron Govers, Roger Pedros, S V Sunil, Shivendra Singh and Dharamvir Singh, backed by a competent intermediate line, the Warriors have shown scant ability to run up a big tally – except in their match against Mumbai.
As for the Mumbai Magicians, the only team to have not won or drawn a match, having Sandeep Singh, since sidelined as an India player, as a lead defender is an invitation to disaster – not that he had been on the pitch at all times when the record number of goals were conceded though. The Magicians badly need a central figure to rally the troops and perhaps spearhead Glenn Turner, who has yet to score a field goal, can step up to the plate. Mumbai’s over-reliance on Sandeep from penalty corners (though he has five in the kitty) and their lack of effective variations is costing them dear.
The HIL is replete with stars of exceptional ability but most of them have yet to do the star turn.
The WSH left some indelible memories of heart-warming exploits by the likes of Gurjinder Singh, Imran Warsi, Len Aiyappa, Shakeel Abassi and Gabbar Singh, not forgetting the resurrection of old warhorses Prabhjot Singh and Deepak Thakur. There is still time, but for the sake of the fans of our own ‘beautiful game’, let’s hope they deliver on the promise.