Not the best of finishes

IHF president K.P.S. Gill presents the winner's cheque to Orissa Steelers.-AKHILESH KUMAR

Orissa Steelers and Sher-e-Jalandhar showed their class in the first two finals. And just when the PHL appeared headed for a spectacular finish in the third final, the Jalandhar team's indiscipline ruined the show. Kamesh Srinivasan reports.

Despite the drama and tension, the Premier Hockey League had an anti-climactic finish as a tame goal decided the champion who became richer by Rs. 40 lakhs.

Indiscipline in Indian hockey hit such a low that when umpire Satinder Sharma let Dilip Tirkey and company to go ahead with the penalty corner drill, the Sher-e-Jalandhar defenders indulged in a bit of gamesmanship by walking out of the cage for the third time in an attempt to unnerve the Orissa Steelers.

The umpire, fed up with the antics of the Sher-e-Jalandhar players even after having warned them earlier, caught them unawares in their own game.

Orissa Steelers' skipper, Dilip Tirkey, who was quite prolific with his goal-scoring skills in the penalty corners throughout the tournament — he had the second best tally of goals after Gagan Ajit Singh — hesitated for a moment as he saw everyone unprepared, but played within the rules by sounding the boards unchallenged. The umpire signalled a goal, which eventually marked his own exit as he was chased by the Sher-e-Jalandhar goalkeeper Kamaldeep Singh and company.

The match was intriguingly poised at 3-3 early in the fourth quarter of the decisive third final, and the Jalandhar team could not recover from the blow of that `gifted' goal, which was worth a cool Rs. 25 lakhs. Sher-e-Jalandhar appeared to have shot itself in the foot by its own indiscretion.

Orissa Steelers' skipper Dilip Tirkey with the PHL trophy. He was one the prolific scorers in the League.-AKHILESH KUMAR

It was a tale of twisted fortune for the Jalandhar outfit, which led 3-2 at one stage to only lose the match 3-4. The team clearly lacked the discipline to channel its flair and firepower.

Sher-e-Jalandhar, which had fought brilliantly through a brace of goals by Gagan Ajit Singh and another from Tejbir Singh, paid dearly for its antics, as it was later docked 50 per cent of its runner-up prize money of Rs. 15 lakhs.

The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) also announced that disciplinary action would be taken against the erring players on receipt of the report from the Tournament Director.

Orissa Steelers and Sher-e-Jalandhar showed their class in splitting the first two finals, and the PHL appeared headed for a spectacular finish when the Jalandhar team's indiscipline ruined the show.

Full credit to the young Orissa team for bouncing back so well after having lost the first final in a prolonged `sudden death' phase of the tiebreak where only 11 of the 30 attempts ended up in the goal.

Roshan Minz was one of the finds of the League and he scored both the goals in Orissa Steelers' 2-1 triumph in the second final, the second goal coming just two minutes from the final whistle.

What was remarkable about the Orissa team was its confidence, especially the manner in which defenders Dilip Tirkey and William Xalxo moved ahead and operated like halfbacks. Dilip was involved in his team's every move. He also guided the youngsters like a tough taskmaster. Prabodh Tirkey, Bimal Lakra and Sunil Ekka kept the forwards busy with good support, particularly in the second and third finals. The forwards, Sameer Dad, Birender Lakra, Damandeep Singh, Sunil Yadav, Bruno Lugun and Roshan Minz excelled with their speed and skill, but were unable to lend the finishing touches to their quality moves most of the time.

In fact, for a team that scored 29 goals in the 12 league matches, Orissa Steelers had only one field goal in the three finals. In the decisive final, Dilip Tirkey struck thrice, all off penalty corners, while the other goal came off a penalty stroke converted by Bimal Lakra. Umpire Vir Bahadur Singh was quite smart in referring the penalty stroke decision to the television umpire, thereby escaping the wrath of the marauding Jalandhar players.

The brain behind the novel rules of the PHL, Maurits Hendriks, would not have visualised the television umpire getting into the picture so often. In fact, the controversial seventh goal was also referred to the television umpire. The long drawn exercise saw play being interrupted for about 25 minutes. The attempt was perhaps to place securitymen around the turf to deal with the wrath of the local supporters.

Chief coach A. K. Bansal had prepared Orissa Steelers well both technically and tactically. He was injured near the ankle during the Chennai leg but stayed on with the team in the second leg in Chandigarh, walking with the help of crutches.

The foreign imports — goalkeeper Salman Akbar (Pakistan), Tjeerd Steller (The Netherlands) and Mario Alamada (Argentina) — played their part with distinction in the team emerging as the champion. Salman Akbar stayed till the end while the other foreign players returned home before the finals to meet their club commitments.

Athleticism and skill blended with discipline was the key to the success of the adivasi boys, and the title along with the impressive cash prize should make them big heroes back home in Orissa where hockey is a big sport. Orissa Steelers' coach and captain deserve full credit for ensuring that their young players were not intimidated by the physical strength and brutal force of the opposition in the finals.

Orissa Steelers topped the PHL with 28 points, followed by Sher-e-Jalandhar, 23.

Bangalore Lions, which had beaten both the finalists in the league phase, finished third with 20 points. The team collected Rs. 7.5 lakhs in the process. Maratha Warriors was placed fourth with 19 points.

The results:

Third final: Orissa Steelers 4 (Dilip Tirkey 3, Bimal Lakra) bt Sher-e-Jalandhar 3 (Gagan Ajit Singh 2, Tejbir Singh).

Second final: Orissa Steelers 2 (Roshan Minz 2) bt Sher-e-Jalandhar 1 (Tejbir Singh).

First final: Sher-e-Jalandhar 7 (Gagan Ajit Singh, Tiebreak: Gagan Ajit Singh, Tejbir Singh-2, Yudhvir Singh, Gurvinder Singh and Prabhdeep Singh) bt Orissa Steelers 6 (Sunil Ekka, Tiebreak: Dilip Tirkey-2, Prabodh Tirkey, William Xalxo-2).

They are killing hockey

After Sher-e-Jalandhar goalkeeper Kamaldeep Singh set a poor example by chasing the umpire in the deciding match of the Premier Hockey League finals, the Orissa Steelers goalkeeper Salman Akbar (in pic) of Pakistan expressed his concern over the state of the game in Punjab. Shocked by the manner in which the Punjab players behaved, he said: "The Sher-e-Jalandhar team, I don't know what they think of themselves. It was sad that there was no action taken when a player got slapped during the match by another player who had been given such a good farewell earlier.''

Akbar was referring to Prabodh Tirkey of Orissa Steelers, who was slapped by Baljit Singh Dhillon during the first final.

Dhillon had announced his retirement before that match, and the two teams honoured the Olympian by making him walk under an arch of hockey sticks. "Maybe, the umpires did not notice the incident, but I am surprised how the authorities running the game are keeping quiet about such indiscipline. Why is there no punishment for such blatant behaviour? I have heard so many stories about the Punjab players in domestic hockey, and they do it so boldly. I understand that the umpires are scared of them. What message do these players give to the youngsters? They are killing hockey,'' Akbar said.

For once, the authorities looked to have swung into action quite decisively, but time would alone tell as to how serious they are about restoring discipline in the Punjab ranks.

A man of ideas

"Did anyone switch off his TV?'' That was Maurits Hendriks (in pic), the tournament director, referring to the tremendous atmosphere at the stadium during the shoot-out of the first final of the Premier Hockey League.

The atmosphere at the venue was electric, as the spectators enjoyed a tense climax. Sher-e-Jalandhar beat Orissa Steelers 6-5 in the tiebreak that featured 30 attempts. The match itself lasted a record two hours and 50 minutes.

"The players will soon understand how to go about it and the quality of execution would become better. In any case, it is easier to accept defeat this way. We never visualised that it would be so good. We will study this further,'' said Hendriks, elaborating on the eight-second one-on-one attempt by the players against the goalkeepers, starting from the 25-yard line, during the novel tiebreak method.

"It was a revelation for international hockey. The FIH representative was at the venue watching the tremendous atmosphere,'' observed Hendriks, the chief coach of Spain's national team.

Talking about the other novelties in the PHL, he said that the other change, by which a penalty corner can be given for fouls near the half line itself, was not generally being followed by the umpires.

It was also decided to have a giant television screen to help the spectators enjoy the match.

"We have many ideas, but we need to get the feedback of the players and coaches before we finalise them for the next edition,'' said Hendriks.

The earlier idea of reducing the players as the match went into extra-time was done away with in the current edition, as the teams tended to become defensive.

It was the first time in three editions that the League was being played at two venues, spread over a longer period. More cities may get into the picture in future if they have international quality turf and floodlight facilities.

The composition of the teams — the players were distributed to various sides without they being able to identify with the region — has been a matter of concern. "Ideally each team should have a clear identity, but it is not always possible to get 25 players from one city. We will try to strike a balance," Hendriks said.

Defending the four-quarter format, Hendriks said that it helped the star players to be on the turf for the entire match. Quite appropriately, the additional time-outs may be done away with so as to make a match compact. Too many stoppages do not help the game.