Addressing his first media conference after being appointed as India’s chief coach, Terry Walsh casually inquired if the East still produces quality players. Over the next 30 days, the Australian will get an opportunity to find an answer as the head coach of Kalinga Lancers, Hockey India League’s (HIL) newest team.
The buzz ahead of the second edition of the HIL, which kicks off on Saturday in Mohali, has centered around the team from Odisha. The addition of the team from Indian hockey’s oldest nurseries, as well as the inclusion of promising youngsters such as Ramandeep Singh, Gurjinder Singh, Affan Yousuf, Lalit Upadhyay and Devinder Walmiki, to name a few, will provide plenty to look forward to in the next few weeks.
Gregg Clarke and Baljit Saini guided unfancied Ranchi Rhinos to glory last season, mixing local talent well with some of the best foreign players. After a disastrous junior World Cup campaign, where the Clarke-Saini coached Indian team finished 10th, the duo will be out to prove a point.
Another team that will be hoping to salvage some pride is Mumbai. They finished at the bottom of the five-team league and have added 10 players to their squad this season apart from changing the coaching staff. Legendary Australian Ric Charlesworth has been shown the door and is replaced by MK Kaushik. Last season’s marquee signing Sandeep Singh too was off-loaded to Punjab Warriors along with Satbir Singh, one of the biggest gainers from first auction.
However, with many changes in the squad and a new coach, one wonders if Mumbai have enough time to get their combinations right ahead of their opening match against Punjab, who look the most balanced and formidable unit once again.
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Stars don’t shine
Despite boasting a star-studded line-up, Punjab failed to qualify for the final last season. They, though, seem to have identified their deficiences and have tried to address it. On paper, the Barry Dancer-coached side looks one of the strongest sides along with Delhi Waveriders, who stumbled at the final hurdle last season after a remarkable performance in the group stage. “Punjab look the strongest. They have a well-balanced squad and in Barry Dancer, have a very good coach. Delhi and Ranchi are the other two teams that start favourites,” says former India goalkeeping coach AB Subbaiah.
How quickly Kalinga adjust to the hectic nature of the league remains to be seen. They boast of some quality international players, including former New Zealand captain Ryan Archibald, but they lack in experience on the Indian players’ front. However, it will be foolhardy to play down their chances, as Ranchi Rhinos showed last season.
Last season: Fifth; New additions: Gurjinder Singh, Prabhjot Singh, VS Vinaya, Ravi Pal, Bharat Chikkara, Vikas Pillay, Gagandeep Singh, Trent Mitton (Aus), Adam Dixon (Eng), David Harte (Ire), Simon Mantell (Eng)
Last season: Runners-up; New additions: Armaan Qureshi, Tristian White, Jason Wilson (both Aus), Steven Edwards (NZ), Tim Drummond (SA)
Last season: Third; New additions: Sandeep Singh, Affan Yousuf, Karamjit Singh, Satbir Singh, Jake Whetton (Aus), Agustin Mazilli (Arg)
Last season: Winners; New additions: Barry Middleton (Eng)
Last season: Fourth; New additions: Ramandeep Singh, Nikin Thimmaiah, Harmanpreet Singh Bal, Jasjit Singh Kular
Note: Kalinga Lancers will debut this season.