The fifth edition of the Hockey India League (HIL) gets underway with a clash between Dabang Mumbai and the Ranchi Rays in Mumbai on Saturday, January 21. Like in the last season, the league will continue with some experimental rules this time too. So, each field goal and each goal scored off a penalty stroke awarded in open play will count as two goals. This is a rule the FIH has been seriously contemplating about including in world hockey rules for some time.
A goal scored from a penalty stroke given as a result of a penalty corner will continue to be counted as one goal only in the IHL. In addition, the standard composition of a playing eleven, wherein a team can have a minimum of two and a maximum of five foreign players, will also apply.
The league stages will feature 30 matches from January 21 to February 22, and the four knockout matches including the two semi-finals and the final will be played over the weekend of February 26 in Mohali, the home of the defending champions Punjab Warriors. Here, we brief you through all six teams participating.
Best finish: 5th (2016)
Home ground: Mahindra Hockey Stadium, Mumbai
Coach: Jay Stacy (Australia)
Mumbai have been the perennial underachievers in the HIL, with the Mumbai franchise that preceded Dabang Mumbai in the first two seasons being the only team in a five-strong field to miss out on the playoffs in 2013. There is no doubt about their quality, though, with Ireland international goalkeeper David Harte leading the line from the back. In Dutchman Sander de Wijn, Australian Jeremy Hayward and Harmanpreet Singh, they have three excellent penalty-corner specialists, with the latter also capable of playing across all positions from defence to an attacking option in midfield.
Australian Kieran Govers is one of the modern giants of the sport, and he will lead the attacking line alongside India internationals Danish Mujtaba and Affan Yousuf, with 2012 FIH player of the year Florian Fuchs of Germany and Robert Kemperman of Netherlands adding plenty of quality.
Best finish: Champions (2014)
Home ground: Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, New Delhi
Coach: Cedric D'Souza (India)
One of the most consistent teams in the history of the league, Delhi Waveriders will be hoping to put a disappointing 2016 campaign behind them, and the best way to do that would be by scoring more field goals. In 2016, they made the semi-finals, but lost five matches in the league stages - one more game than the league and knockout phases of both 2013 and 2014 combined - and reviving some consistency is the big challenge for coach D'Souza.
He has a quality team at his disposal, with English midfielder Iain Lewers and Austrian international Benjamin Stanzl expected to provide good supply for the likes of New Zealand's Simon Child and South African forward Justin Ried-Ross. Goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch now boasts of an Olympic silver medal with Belgium, while Rupinder Pal Singh was the most valuable player of the tournament last year. Delhi will also have the services of four stars of the Indian junior World Cup winning team, with skipper Harjeet Singh and Santa Singh in midfield, and Parvinder Singh and Mandeep Singh in more attacking roles.
- Rupinder Pal Singh (@rupinderbob3) January 20, 2017
Best finish: Runners-up (2016)
Home ground: Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar
Coach: Mark Hager (Australia)
Kalinga Lancers were the last among the cities competing to get a franchise going in the HIL, and that lack of experience showed in the first two years of their existence. They made the semi-finals last year ahead of Dabang Mumbai only because of goal difference, and then won a shootout against Ranchi Rays, before losing 6-1 in the final to the Punjab Warriors.
Mark Hager's squad is blessed with quality and variety, but most of it in defensive positions. Australian international goalkeeper Andrew Charter will be joined in the backline by the likes of India international Pardeep Mor, Australia's Matthew Dawson, Gurjinder Singh and India junior international Dipsan Tirkey. There's the experience of the troika of international superstars Moritz Fuerste of Germany, Australian Glenn Turner and Dutchman Billy Bakker to fall back upon too. The bulk of field goals would be shared by 2016 top-scorer Turner with SK Uthappa, Lalit Upadhyay, Devinder Walmiki and Australian international Aran Zalewski.
Best finish: Champions (2016)
Home ground: Hockey Stadium, Mohali
Coach: Barry Dancer (Australia)
Punjab Warriors are unbeaten in three final appearances across the last three editions of the HIL, and the only reason they have just one title to show for it is that they lost shootouts in both 2014 and 2015. Experienced Australian Barry Dancer has held the reins of coaching this franchise from the first year, and that's why they haven't felt the need to change too much in their squad down the seasons.
Sardar Singh was drafted into the squad in 2016, and he added quality to a midfield that had Australians Matt Gohdes, Mark Knowles and Dutchman Robert van der Horst, whose compatriot Mink van der Weerden is one of the best drag-flick exponents in the world game. 2016 also saw Armaan Qureshi coming into his own as a striker, including a critical field goal in the semi-final win over Delhi Waveriders, and with the likes of SV Sunil and Jacob Whetton of Australia alongside him, this team should be backed to provide plenty of attacking flair through the league stages.
Best finish: Champions (2015)*
Home ground: Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium, Ranchi
Coach: Harendra Singh (India)
*Ranchi's franchise for the first two seasons, Ranchi Rhinos, were champions in 2013
Ranchi Rays acquired the services of Gurbaj Singh and Germany's Christopher Ruhr, the most expensive Indian and foreign players, respectively, at the auctions before the 2017 season. This should be taken as a sign of how seriously one of the best-supported teams in the league will approach this edition, with coach Harendra Singh coming straight off his junior World Cup victory with the Indian team.
Englishmen Ashley Jackson and Barry Middleton will add experience and quality to the centre of the field for Ranchi, and India international Manpreet Singh has also been a permanent fixture in HIL franchises for Ranchi like Jackson. India internationals Birendra Lakra and Kothajit Singh will join Australians Fergus Kavanagh and Tim Deavin in adding solidity to defence, while Imran Khan and Mohammad Amir Khan will be expected to help score field goals.
Uttar Pradesh Wizards
Best finish: Third (2013)
Home ground: Dhyan Chand Sports College, Lucknow
Coach: Roger van Gent (Netherlands)
The UP Wizards have been one of the under-performers in HIL history, though they did make the last four in the first three seasons, and only a pulsating 8-7 defeat in the shootout to Ranchi kept them out of the final in 2015. The Wizards will have the senior team's strategic coach Roger van Gent's experience to fall back on in the dugout, and on the field they have quality all around the field and from all across the globe.
Indian regulars PR Sreejesh, VR Raghunath, Ramandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh will be joined by drag-flick specialist defender Gonzalo Peillat of Argentina and his Olympic gold-winning compatriot Agustin Mazzilli leading the attacking line. Arthur van Doren of Belgium will be an integral part of the defence, while Dutchmen Seve van Ass and Sander Baart will hope to combine with Australia's Eddie Ockenden to pull the strings in midfield for one of only teams to never have made the HIL final.