HIL semifinals: Interesting fare in the offing

Kalinga Lancers will try to stop the Ranchi juggernaut, while Jaypee Punjab Warriors will hope to reach its third final in the Hockey India League.

Ranchi Rays... on a roll.   -  PTI

With a 100 per cent record at home, a passionate capacity crowd cheering it on as the ‘12th man of the side’ and carrying the defending champion’s tag lightly on its head, Ranchi Rays would be keen to keep the momentum going against Kalinga Lancers in the semifinal of the fourth Hockey India League at the Astroturf Hockey Stadium here on Saturday.

First timer in the knockouts, Kalinga has struggled lately to perform up to the standards it set in the first half of the competition. Its over-reliability on Glenn Turner to get the goals saw the Australian climb to the top of the scoring charts but his team left unsure every time he was a marked man. Devindar Wamiki’s injury and subsequent ouster from the competition did not help matters. Gurjinder Singh hasn’t been great with penalty corners and with skipper Moritz Fuerste being constantly tailed, the team’s biggest weapon has been blunted. There are others in the Kalinga ranks who can do the job but they haven’t been tested enough.

Playing Ranchi in Ranchi would do nothing to ease Kalinga’s concerns. The host has the manpower to bully past any opposition. Most of its players are adept at fitting into more than one role — Manpreet has fallen back in the absence of Birendra Lakra, skipper Ashley Jackson has taken on a more defensive role as well but Barry Middleton has moved ahead and youngsters Imran Khan and Amir Khan have stepped up to shoulder the scoring burden. The team has shown it can bounce back with repeated wins despite trailing early on and it has been the advantage of playing its final league games at home to keep the momentum.

In the other semifinal, former champion Delhi Waveriders would be hoping to reach its third final in four outings against Jaypee Punjab Warriors, which would be looking to create its own hat-trick of final appearances. Delhi, which made the cut for the last four with a win in its final league outing, knows drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh would be the key to its hopes. As would Punjab, which would be looking up to Chris Ciriello to do the job for it.

Punjab coach Barry Dancer, one of the very few to have been part of the same franchise in HIL since inception, summed up the battle as boiling down to ‘desire to win’.

“The semifinal is more about which team has the hunger to win, which team is more committed towards its team members and which team has the concentration. We have seen teams lose their direction in the match because of lack of discipline,” Dancer said.

With all four teams having suffered the consequences, they would do well to heed Dancer’s words.