What’s the story?
The Hockey India League 2017 will now move to the northern part of the country as the Delhi Waveriders open their home leg with a matchup against the Jaypee Punjab Warriors at the Shivaji Stadium in the heart of the national capital. Both sides currently lie on the bottom of the table but they have played four games less than the top three, which means there is plenty of time to catch up.
The Punjab side, led by the experience of Sardar Singh and Aussie star Mark Knowles, are looking to progress up the points table and seal a berth in the semi-finals. Speaking at the pre-match press conference, the former Indian skipper spoke about the importance of improving with every game and the psychological impact of being so far behind in the points table.
“We knew about this schedule from the very beginning and the coach has spoken to the team about it. We are trying to focus solely on our games and not look at the league table,” said Singh.
He also spoke about how the two-goal system for field goals affects player morale, saying, “In the match against Kalinga, we were 6-0 down despite conceding only three goals. Such a scoreline can get to the youngsters and they get bogged down by it, but we are trying to improve in that respect and get stronger mentally.”
Mark Knowles, a three-time Olympic medalist, gave his thoughts on the league and what his team’s objectives are. He said, “The league is a huge boost for hockey and the quality is at par with any other top level tournament. Our goal is to enjoy each game and give our best. Another important thing is the integration of young players in the side and we are making sure the junior guys learn as much as possible from us."
In case you didn’t know...
The Punjab side are currently fifth on the points table, having won one tie and lost two. In their last encounter, they lost by a narrow 6-5 margin to the Kalinga Lancers in Bhubhaneshwar after trailing by six goals at a point in time.
On the other hand, the Delhi Waveriders sit bottom of the standings with one draw and two losses. They too lost by a one-goal margin in their previous game – a 3-2 loss against Dabang Mumbai and have conceded just four goals in their three matches.
The heart of the matter
The sides from Ranchi, Odisha and Mumbai have already played seven matches out of ten, with the Maharashtrian side leading the way. Meanwhile, Punjab, Delhi and UP have their home legs yet to come.
Punjab's coach Barry Dancer admitted that the scheduling was an issue but said that his side is focused on the task at hand. He stated that his side’s focus is on preparing for the match and playing high-quality hockey.
Even Knowles acknowledged that they had had an awkward start with their home stretch beginning so late but he added that they will try to do their best.
The two sides will face off on Tuesday i.e. January 7 as they look to challenge for the top four. Delhi will also play on Wednesday against the Uttar Pradesh Wizards.
The two-goal system has received mixed reviews from players and coaches but in the writer’s opinion, it is a wonderful initiative that has led to more attacking hockey and less reliance on penalty corners. Also fascinating to see are the new variations that teams are trying out to convert short corners into double goals.
With the gap in points so large, the pressure will be on both sides to make up the difference and contest for a semi-final spot. The Delhi side will look to capitalise on the support from their home fans and record their first win of the new season.