A DOMESTIC league, based on regional rivalry, is supposed to identify and nurture its players.
In that sense, the Premier Hockey League (PHL), after four years, has not been able to delegate powers to state associations and the teams involved to pick players of their choice. Such decisions are most of the times forced on the teams.
While launching PHL, the IHF had said it would be picking up the squad for the first year and will hand over the reins to the state associations later. But that is yet to happen. This has resulted in discontent among teams, as many of them have not been able to use the players they wanted.
The Maratha Warriors wanted Dhanraj Pillay but were not allowed while the Orissa Steelers lost creative midfielder Bimal Lakra to Bangalore Hi-Fliers. The teams were also forced to pick juniors players, who were not used fully.
Though the decision to play juniors has given players like Diwakar Ram, Sameer Baxla, Pramod Kumar and Bikash Toppo a chance to rub shoulders with international stars and they have performed well for their sides, other than Hyderabad Sultans, teams like Chandigarh Dynamos and Sher-e-Jalandhar rarely used the youngsters. Dynamos coach N.S. Sodhi has a point when he says he can't use juniors at the expense of senior players. "We got to know about the juniors only few days before the start of the PHL. How can I use an untested player instead of a senior whose game I know," Sodhi said.
Even for the Sultans, they had no choice as they have no players of their own. "They should have changed the format and teams should have got the chance to pick players from their region alone. But with no such rules, some teams have to depend on players from other regions," said K Krishnamurthy, manager of Bangalore Hi-Fliers and Karnataka State Hockey Association secretary.
Hyderabad Hockey Association secretary P Kanthiah said this dependence on players from other regions is proving a big problem. "We can't have practice sessions as it is not possible for players to assemble at one place. This year all the players assembled here only couple of days before the start and went into the tournament without many training sessions," he told Hindustan Times.
Hi-Fliers face early charge
Conceding late goals has been the bane of Indian hockey for years. In the current edition of the Premier Hockey League (PHL), Bangalore Hi-Fliers have to find answers to their problem of conceding early goals.
The former PHL champs conceded a couple of goals in the semifinal against Orissa Steelers and also in the first final against Chandigarh Dynamos. They fought back from the two-goal deficit against the Steelers, but were not so lucky against the Dynamos, despite dominating for long stretches and creating a number of productive moves.
Though profligacy of his forwards and inconsistent form of drag-flicker Len Aiyappa would be a concern for Bangalore coach Ashish Ballal, his biggest headache is how to counter the opponents early in a do-or-die second final on Wednesday.
A win for the Bangalore outfit would mean taking the contest into the third and deciding final, while a defeat would mean going home with a runners-up purse of Rs 20 lakh, half of what the Dynamos would pocket.
Thus, the onus would be on the Hi-Fliers to come out determined and take the fight to the rival camp. They would be expecting a better performance from their forwards, who have created many chances but managed to capitalise only on two of them.
They would also take heart from their midfield, led by Arjun Halappa, which dominated the centre and maintained a good supply to the forwards. Ballal would be hoping for a similar display, although the defence would be causing him some worries. There would also be pressure on Aiyappa, who had an off day on Monday, failing to make the most of half-a-dozen chances.
The Hi-Fliers have some injury worries as well, with forward Sandeep Michael a doubtful starter after he suffered an ankle injury. Michael underwent an MRI and the team will take a decision on his inclusion only after getting the report.
On the other hand, the Dynamos are in high spirits after their excellent performance on Monday when their forwards led the way. They are favourites to clinch their maiden PHL title. Though their midfield did not do too well, the defenders, especially Sandeep Singh and Zeeshan Ashraf, held their own against the rivals. Though Prabhjot Singh is injured, he would most likely play on Wednesday.