Hockey Title Revives Hopes For World Cup
With the HIL win, the midas touch of MS Dhoni, which seemed to have lost somewhere lately, is back and the entire nation is praying and hoping that he will repeat history in Australia and New Zealand
With Cricket World Cup fever is on roll, team India are playing like a champion as they are. There is more good news for the Captain MS Dhoni, as his co-owned Hockey franchisee Ranchi Rays won the 3rd edition of Hockey India League title at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium. Although team India are doing pretty good in Cricket World Cup, it is too early to predict their chances of retaining the World Cup, but the HIL victory certainly a confidence booster for MS Dhoni.
Hockey India League is a professional league competition organised by Hockey India. Inspired by IPL the tournament was originally contested in the first season among five franchisee-based teams consisting of players from India and around the world. In 2014, Bhubaneswar-based Kalinga Lancers joined as the sixth franchise. The plan is to have eight teams by 2016 and 10 by 2018, with a possibility of having a team from south India. The entire event takes place on home and away basis culminating into multi-header playoffs. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has sanctioned the event and also provides a 30-day window at the beginning of a year so that all top players can participate.
The league is an initiative to promote and build the culture of hockey in India. Despite it being our national sport hockey is losing its ground in terms of popularity and fan following. Poor performance and absence of icons and role models tarnish the image and popularity of Indian hockey. The Indian midfielder and Captain Sardar Singh said: “Playing alongside talented and experienced players from world over has always been bliss and an opportunity of great learning.” It really is a great effort in the up-liftment and branding of the national sport and also it helps attract and inspire youngsters to opt hockey at their school and college level. Unlike cricket, hockey needs a platform where budding players got an opportunity to showcase their skills and in that aspect the league is a perfect stage.
The debutant Ranchi Rays produced an inspired performance and twice came back from a goal down to beat favourites Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the shoot-out and emerged champions. Punjab Warriors might have entered the final as favourites going by their form this season, but Ranchi Rays looked more threatening to score goals in the opening 30 minutes. The Rays enjoyed the better share of ball possession in the opening two quarters and created some good moves but failed to convert them into goals. The action packed first half went without a penalty corner. Ranchi Rays skipper Ashley Jackson, who led his team to the Hockey India League (HIL) title, was also named player of the tournament, while Dabang Mumbai’s young drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh was declared most promising player.
In the absence of experienced Jamie Dwyer, who missed the match with an injury, the Punjab Warriors’ forward line lacked creativity, which was quite clearly evident in their performance in the opening half. The match livened up after the change of ends and finally the crowd could see the first penalty corner of the match in the 34th minute which went in favour of Punjab Warriors. They came out with more purpose in the third quarter and finally managed to break the deadlock in the 39th minute. In the 42nd minute, the Rays secured another penalty corner and Minz scored with a rebound after Ashley Jackson’s initial flick was saved by Punjab Warriors goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann. Four minutes from the final hooter, Satbir Singh pounced on a defensive error to win Ranchi Rays second penalty corner and Ciriello made no mistake in converting the opportunity to hand his side 2-1 lead. With this win, the city of Ranchi has got two HIL titles as the now-defunct Ranchi Rhinos had won the inaugural title in 2013. Last year’s champion Delhi Wave riders finished third after beating Uttar Pradesh Wizards 2-1 in the third-fourth place play-off match.
Rays got Rs. 2.5 crore for winning the title, while Warriors got richer by Rs. 1.25 crore for finishing second. The Englishman Ashley Jackson, a 27-year-old, scored 12 goals, highest in the tournament, and also was responsible for setting up several field goals for his team-mates. “It has been very satisfying phase for me. We were tired after semi-final and we showed a lot of character against a very good side. This victory has been very rewarding for the team,” said Jackson. Among other awards, Uttar Pradesh Wizards goalkeeper PR Sreejesh got the motivator of the tournament award for his calming presence under the bar.
With this win, the midas touch of MS Dhoni, which seemed to have lost somewhere lately, is back and the entire nation is praying and hoping that he will repeat history in Australia and New Zealand by winning the Cricket World Cup 2015. India has started the tournament on a high beating arch rival Pakistan and favourite South Africa comprehensively. Players who were out of form just before the World Cup have found the touch—bowling has improved a lot and fielding too looks sharp which has made India a top contender to win the tournament and regain the title.
By Sorabh Aggarwal