Hero Hockey India League 2013 (HIL) commencing in mid Jan. progressed steadily at 5 different playing venues – Delhi, Lucknow, Ranchi, Jalandhar and Mumbai – and the 5 competing teams have treated the hockey lovers with some scintillating and fiercely contested matches and beautiful exhibition of modern hockey.
Typically, the modern hockey, in a nutshell, is all about possessional play, short passes and less dribbling; making optimum use of the rolling substitution rule that allows as many as 9 players getting substituted any number of times during play. More importantly, a brand of total hockey where defenders, midfielders and forwards keep interchanging their assigned positions to suit the need of defending or attacking or counter-attacking. The teams’ coaches have, therefore, a huge role to play in framing the strategies and in working out a winning formula for their respective teams.
Each team had a mix of reputed foreign players (from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England, the Netherlands and Germany) and established and emerging Indian players, Delhi Waveriders (DW) and Ranchi Rhinos (RR) looked distinctly better outfits and better organised. At the end of the preliminary round matches, the two teams stood at #1 and #2 positions respectively. Subsequently at the business end, both scored convincing wins over their respective rivals in the semi-finals and deservingly earned the right to meet each other for summit clash.
The finals played at Ranchi turned out to be a superb display of skilful, fast paced and tactical hockey where both the teams excelled. DW having earlier beaten RR twice and drawn once at league stage was favourites and tipped to win the title and took 1-0 lead early on. Yet the RR team with the spectators’ vociferous support spurring them on were able to turn the table and emerge winners by 2-1. It was a grand finale to this nearly a month long event and hockey lovers of Ranchi in particular couldn’t possibly have asked for anything more. Firecrackers at the end of the match making the night sky all too colourful for quite a while summed up the joys and satisfaction the event had brought for them.
Sardar Singh (Delhi Waveriders) declared as Hero player of the tournament and Mandeep Singh (17 years) (Ranchi Rhinos) hailed as emerging player of the tournament, may give some solid boost to Indian hockey in the coming days.
Right through the tournament what impressed everyone the most was the quality of superb goalkeeping by Jacobi (Delhi Waveriders), Cortes (Ranchi Rhinos) and Stockmann (Punjab Warriors) – all three foreign players – displaying remarkable anticipation, reflexes and athleticism while defending several sure shot goals, match after match. In the process, they also earned a few MoM (Man of the Match) awards. This also explains in a way, as to why the penalty corners conversions were seen to be unexpectedly much less, say around 30%, in this tournament and the teams seemed to be attempting more of the field goals.
Yet another significant feature on view was the reverse flicks that were used as very potent weapons by the attackers inside ‘D’, more often beating the defenders and the goalkeeper to score goals for the team.
And now a few words about the moneys that were at stake in this tournament. Franchisee-based 5 teams, having initially adopted the bidding system by their owners to select players, ensured that all the players were suitably compensated monetarily. The highest bid of USD 87,000 went in favour of Nooijer (UP Wizard and from the Netherlands) and amongst the Indian players Sardar Singh (Delhi Waveriders) bagged the highest bid amount of USD 82,000 and the lowest to a newcomer at USD 25,000. Never before anywhere the hockey players were paid this much . The Australian captain Jamie Dwyer playing for Punjab Warriors very openly acknowledged that for playing a nearly month long hockey a sum of USD 78,000 paid to him was truly fabulous.
The winning team getting rewarded with a cheque for Rs 2.5 crores, the runner up team with a cheque of Rs. 1.25 crore and the 3rd placed team walking away with a cheque for Rs. 75 lakh was something not witnessed earlier in the Indian hockey. Much of this credit should go the corporate world led by Hero Motocorp for coming in support for the Indian hockey.
At the end of the day, however, hockey has been the winner both in India as also amongst the hockey playing nations. For the hockey lovers, the party seems to be over now but the way things have unfolded for them in the past month or so, the appetite for it continues.
* My 9 years old granddaughter, Shubhika, once sitting beside me watching live telecast of a hockey match, finding that a player was sitting outside the sideline, posed a simple question as to why was he sitting out. “He has been penalised for foul play a short while ago and was out of the game for 2 minutes”, I replied. Then why is he being served with the fruit juice was her next question. I fumbled for a while before attempting a reply!
* The left handed player cannot play hockey – that’s how Wasim Akram excused himself when challenged by Sanjay Manjrekar to wield a hockey stick and play against him. It was when the duo had visited to promote hockey at Ranchi Astroturf on 18th Jan. 2013, to witness Ranchi Rhinos-Mumbai Magicians match.
* Some 5-6 players from Pakistan chosen to play in HIL 2013, had to go back without playing a single match in view of the political reasons. Organisers, however, fulfilled their commitments by making full payment of the bid amount to each of them.