As the clock ticks down on the fifth edition of the Hockey India League (HIL) that starts on Saturday with a match between Dabang Mumbai and former champions Ranchi Rays, one can feel a certain buzz that hasn’t been seen in hockey since its glory days.
The league has certainly given impetus to the sport in the country, with the first four editions helping HIL establish itself as a unique brand. Some of the innovations introduced have even been picked by the international federation to be implemented at the top level.
At the same time, it’s important to take stock of the league’s contribution to the recent success of Indian hockey. Five years is good enough time to judge the accomplishments of any venture and thus the fifth edition of HIL should give crucial pointers towards the overall scope and possibilities for what is now becoming the premier hockey league in the world.
There is no doubt that the league has contributed to the overall resurgence in Indian hockey as indicated in the recent good performances of the national team.
There has been success in the Hockey World League (bronze medal), Champions Trophy (silver medal), the Rio Olympics and finally the triumph at the Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup in Lucknow last month.
League looks stagnated
However, it’s also true that the league looks stagnated as it has not been able to increase the number of participating teams. HIL started in 2013 with five teams and added just one team in 2014.
Leagues in hockey nations like Australia, England, Spain and Holland have between eight to 12 teams in their top division league. One reason why HIL has not been to expand is the limited pool of Indian players at its disposal.
With no FIH global event scheduled till the World Cup in Bhubaneswar in 2018, the major teams will be rebuilding their squads. For India, the process starts with the HIL as it will be a good chance for junior players to make their way into the senior team.
Most of the junior players were involved in the last edition of the HIL but did not get enough chances to play. Following India’s triumph in the Junior World Cup, these players are nudging established stars and HIL is a good chance for them to establish their credentials.
Ranchi could reclaim title
Six teams will again vie for the title this season and the winner will be determined after a double round-robin preliminary league played on home and away basis followed by semifinals (Feb 25) and final (Feb 26).
On paper, former champions Ranchi Rays look a well-balanced side and a favourite to reclaim their title.
Defending champions Jaypee Punjab Warriors have picked some young players to bolster their side while Delhi Waveriders look short on star power and are banking on youth to propel them towards their second title.