The game of hockey is so addictive for Lucknowites, it seems, they prefer it more than cricket. The presence of more than 15,000 spectators during the Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup final in December was a testimony to this.
This was not the first time fans in such huge numbers had turned up to watch a high-profile game. The last four seasons of Hockey India League (HIL) have been witnessing huge number of spectators swarming the stadium to cheer the local outfit, Uttar Pradesh Wizards.
One expects such a similar gathering again when UP Wizards, led by VR Raghunath, begin their campaign on home turf in the fifth edition of HIL, taking on Kalinga Lancers on Friday under lights.
Besides having the psychological advantage of beating the Bhubaneshwar-based outfits 10-0 in their away match, the local side will try to make full use of home advantage.
The turf is a little uneven and the juniors too realised this during the World Cup. This would be the main concern for both sides. Whichever team adjusts quickly on Friday, will be able to dictate terms. Kalinga Lancers’ coach Mark William Hager agreed that the team had encountered some “extra bounce” during its first training session, but hoped his boys would come good against the hosts.
“It is a new match for us and we are not bothered about what happened during our last meeting. So, we are looking forward to a good show and we are here to win,” Hager said on the eve of the game.
With just one win in four outings so far this season, the Wizards will look for a repeat against the Lancers, who are currently placed second on the table with 20 points from seven matches. With Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Agustin Mazzilli having done well in the four matches so far, the Wizards must be hoping for their skipper Raghunath to convert penalty corners into goals with accuracy.
Before finishing last during last season, the Wizards had consistently finished third in the three seasons before that. What they need now is to make the most of the home conditions and win all three matches here, as two of their home games have been shifted to Delhi due to the state assembly elections.