It is getting bigger, better and more competitive, but as the curtain goes up on the third edition of the Premier Hockey League (PHL III) here on Thursday, questions on whether it has really made an impact on the state of Indian hockey have started raising their head.
Agreed that two editions are not enough to judge any tournament and one should give more time to the PHL, but the assessment has to start some time and the third year seems just right, as Indian hockey has slumped one rung further at the Doha Asian Games, failing to make it to the semifinals for the first time.
And the PHL should be assessed in the light of the new low as a domestic competition is the right barometer of the depth of talent required to propel the national team in the international arena. With all the players who were part of the Indian team in the last few years here, it would be a good time to assess the talent pool but the Indian Hockey Federation should have a rethink on their policy of picking players on the basis of their performance in the PHL.
Seven teams — defending champions Bangalore Lions, Sher-E-Jalandhar, Maratha Warriors, Hyderabad Sultans, Chandigarh Dynamos, Orissa Steelers and local outfit Chennai Veerans will fight it out for the top prize this year.
The PHL has succeeded in attracting the attention of foreign players considering the number of players from the Netherlands, Spain, Australia and Argentina this time around.
Pakistan, as usual, have the maximum number of players (12) while Malaysia have three players. Though not all foreign players will be in action in Chennai as some of the 29 players will be leaving before the Chandigarh edition to be replaced by others like Santi Freixa of Spain, Michael McCann of Australia and Jamie Dwyer or Brent Livermore of Australia.
The winners will also get more money as the organisers have hiked the top prize to Rs 40 lakhs and Rs 15 lakhs for runners-up. However, not all that money will be distributed among the players, as some part will also go the state associations.
On paper, the Lions look the team to beat, while last year's runners-up Chandigarh Dynamos and Sher-E-Jalandhar also look strong. the latter received a setback on Wednesday when Pakistan’s Mohammad Imran pulled out as he failed to get permission from his employers. Hyderabad Sultans take on Chennai Veerans in the inaugural match on Thursday.
Maratha Warriors look a bit weak upfront with only Shivinder Singh as a potent striker. However, PHL has always produced unexpected winners like Hyderabad Sultans and Bangalore Lions. There are chances of something similar happening this year too.