Not a great show

THE PRESENCE of foreign players such as Rehan Butt (right) of Pakistan added some glamour to the League.-PTI THE PRESENCE of foreign players such as Rehan Butt (right) of Pakistan added some glamour to the League.

Put on the boards on January 4 with a grand opening ceremony involving celebrities from the entertainment world, the third edition did not match the hype and projection, writes S. Thyagarajan.

Chapter 1 of the third Premier Hockey League in Chennai was anything but inspiring. Of the 21 matches, involving seven teams, only a handful provided fare worthy of the event's stature.

Split into two legs for the first time — the second is being held in Chandigarh — and featuring a number of foreign players, the competition was expected to move into a different zone. But all expectations fell flat. The principal reason for the insipid show was the timing of the event. Coming as the third edition did, immediately after the hectic programme of 2006 during which Indian hockey touched a new low, the majority of the participants were tired, listless and unenthusiastic.

Paradoxically, the veterans who had paced their season well were conspicuous. Among them mention must be made of the 1994 World Cup player, Sabu Varkey.

Playing for the defending champion Bangalore Lions, Sabu, in almost every encounter, attracted attention. He taught a lesson or two to the young defenders in front.

Next in line was former skipper, Baljit Singh Dhillon of Sher-E-Jalandhar. As the principal playmaker, he was impressive, and kept the momentum of the Jalandhar attack on an even keel. His astute passes provided enough space for Gagan Ajit Singh, Tejbbir Singh and Jarnail Singh to weave in and out.

Interestingly, the Jalandhar outfit recorded the biggest win in phase one — a 7-1 defeat of Bangalore Lions in which Gagan Ajit Singh scored three goals, each as striking as the other.

Writing about veterans, one could not overlook the work of mid-fielder Baljit Saini of Sher-E-Jalandhar. The star of yesteryear contributed immensely to the team's cause with his attacking display.

The presence of foreign stars lent a touch of glamour. In this, the Pakistanis deserve commendation. Rehan Butt, the national captain, was outstanding. Displaying eye catching stick-work and speed on the right flank, he was a source of inspiration for the Bangalore Lions.

Shakeel Abbasi and Tariq Aziz worked hard to give the flagging Hyderabad Sultans a honourable place on the standing table. But the team's performance was anything but admirable, despite the encouraging penalty corner hits by Didar Singh in the later stages.

Goalkeeper Salam Akbar, who got married in the first week of January, doubled the strength of Orissa Steelers. Imran Warsi, a specialist drag flicker, was not that much of a success for Maratha Warriors as was mid-fielder Imran Khan for Sher-E-Jalandhar.

Next were the Dutchmen. Tjeerd Steller was the best of the lot. His drag flicks for Orissa Steelers made him a celebrity. The early form of Sander van der Weide for Bangalore Lions and Don Prins for Sher-E-Jalandhar did not sustain for long. But the quality of showing by the Spaniard, Albert Casas, for Chennai Veerans was there for all to see.

Of the national stars, the consistency of Prabhodh Tirkey of Orissa Steelers should be noted. So must the enterprising performance of Damandeep Singh in the closing stages.

The umpiring in the tournament was debatable. While the attitude of the players, who questioned almost every ruling, should be condemned in strongest terms, the fact that the quality of umpiring was poor in a competition of this magnitude needs to be acknowledged.

The IHF should have paid more attention towards choosing the panel of umpires, including the Tournament Director, Shakeel Quereshi, whose soft approach served no purpose. The warning issued by the IHF, however, had some salutary effect.

Put on the boards on January 4 with a grand opening ceremony involving celebrities from the entertainment world, the third edition did not match the hype and projection.

Will the second leg at Chandigarh be different?