When Mumbai Magicians take on Punjab Warriors in Saturday’s Hockey India League (HIL) clash, one wonders if the hosts will be lamenting the loss of their former marquee player, Sandeep Singh, to the visitors.
The drag-flicker was the tournament’s top scorer last season with 11 goals but was seen as a defensive liability by the Mumbai team management. Consequently, he was off-loaded to Punjab Warriors ahead of the second edition. But Sandeep, who has been discarded from the national team for more than a year, has shown his worth from penalty corners situations yet again.
While his former team has lacked teeth in attack this season, Sandeep is the joint-highest scorer along with UP Wizards’s VR Raghunath with four goals each so. Sandeep had also scored against his former team earlier this season.
In sharp contrast, 19-year-old Gurjinder Singh, brought into the side to fill the void left by Sandeep’s departure, is yet to find form. Gurjinder, who incidentally wears Sandeep’s No.4 jersey, is considered to be among the rising young players in the country but has managed to score just one goal so far.
Magicians coach MK Kaushik said he is ‘concerned’ about the poor conversion rate when it comes to penalty corners. “Of course, we should convert much more than we have so far. But it is something we have been working on,” Kaushik said.
However, what will be troubling Kaushik even more is the team’s overall inconsistency. The Magicians haven’t managed to string together a cohesive performance in the five matches they have played so far.
They have looked sharp in one quarter and quite the opposite of that in the next. Defensive lapses at crucial junctures in the match have cost them dear, as was evident against Delhi Waveriders on Thursday, where a late goal cost them a draw, they felt they deserved.
Mumbai’s failure to win a match despite having decent players and seasoned coaches in both seasons (Ric Charlesworth in first edition and Kaushik now) is mysterious. Still, Punjab are wary of the bottom-placed team. Their coach Barry Dancer said Mumbai are in a `desperate’ situation now. Skipper Jamie Dwyer said they expect Mumbai to come hard at them because they have `nothing to lose.’
On paper, Punjab can boast of having one of the best squads in the league but their form has been patchy. After an opening-day defeat to Delhi Waveriders, Punjab managed to win three consecutive matches before being held to a 2-2 draw by UP Wizards. They are currently placed second in the table.
They come into Saturday’s match after a leisurely five-day break. But Dancer is taking nothing for granted. “Mumbai is a dangerous and desperate side. They gave Delhi a tough fight recently, and so we can’t expect them to take it easy. Especially since they are looking for their first win,” he said.
Today’s Other match: UP vs Delhi
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