HIL: All eyes on Junior World Cup stars

ndian national senior coach Roelant Oltmans is on record that juniors from the World Cup, looking to break into the senior probables list, will be expected to make their presence count in HIL 2017, playing with and against the world’s best.

Players from Kalinga Lancers practice ahead of the 2017 Hockey India League.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

This year’s Hockey India League promises to be different from similar franchise-based leagues where Indians are viewed just as support cast to foreigners in team line-ups. Coming after the high of 2016’s junior World Cup triumph, members of the junior squad will be under the spotlight as much as the foreign faces.

Indian national senior coach Roelant Oltmans is on record that juniors from the World Cup, looking to break into the senior probables list, will be expected to make their presence count in HIL 2017, playing with and against the world’s best.

Ranchi Rays head coach, Harender Singh, confirmed the Dutchman’s assertion ahead of Saturday’s opener against Dabang Mumbai.

Harender said: “With Oltmans saying that HIL performances will count, the juniors need to deliver. At the junior World Cup, they were boys. Now they are men, playing against the world’s best like Ashley Jackson [Ranchi Rays] or Florian Fuchs [Dabang Mumbai].”

He observed that with 33 junior World Cuppers distributed among different teams and leading pros from major hockey nations available, each of the six HIL teams can win the title.

Jostling with foreigners for places in the first XI is not a novelty for the juniors, as witnessed in HIL 2016. The difference this time is the timing, the league coming just a month after the junior World Cup win. Jackson, Ranchi captain last season, quipped: “Last year they were younger by one year. After a year of exposure to international level, they will have developed.”

The England international added: “I always say the HIL is the reason for India winning the junior World Cup. Harender as coach was also a big reason.”

Ranchi has four from the victorious Lucknow squad (Vikramjit Singh, Simranjit Singh, Sumit Kumar, Sumeet). Mumbai has five (Gurjant Singh, Nilakantha Sharma, Harmanpreet Singh, Manpreet and Krishna Pathak) going into the opener at the Mahindra stadium. Former Aussie star, Jay Stacy, is head coach.

Champion HIL squads in previous seasons banked on local talent, be it Ranchi Rhinos (2013) under head coach Gregg Clark, Delhi Waveriders (2015) guided by Cedric D’Souza, Ranchi Rays (2015) under Harender Singh and Punjab Warriors (2016) managed by Barry Dancer.

Stacy, searching for success in his second stint with Dabang Mumbai, said: “In HIL last season, we took a conscious decision to give the juniors a chance, with a view to give them much-needed exposure.”

Harender promised an open game in Saturday’s opener keeping the fans in mind. “Ranchi Rays is never defensive,’ said the head coach. “We have a lethal striker in Germany’s Christopher Ruhr, besides India’s Gurbaj Singh.” Other match-winners are Australia’s Trent Mitton, England’s Barry Middleton and Birender Lakra.

Stacy’s side has formidable names in world hockey, Aussies Kieran Govers, Jeremy Hayward, Dutchman Sander de Wijin, Ireland’s David Harte, German star Fuchs along with Indian seniors Affan Yousuf, Nikkin Thimmiah, Danish Mujtaba, and Roshan Minz.