With changes in team combinations and scoring rule, the fourth edition of Hockey India League (HIL), which begins tomorrow, promises to be an unique and exciting affair in more ways than one.
In the tournament opener tomorrow, hosts Kalinga Lancers will take on Uttar Pradesh Wizards at the Kalinga Stadium.
The tournament this season will throw up new challenges for players, teams owners and the organisers.
The players, especially, will be looking to make the most out of the tournament before the Rio Olympics later in August.
To add to it, with fresh auctions held last year new team combinations will be seen in action and it remains to be seen how the players adjust in their new franchises under new coaching staff.
At the end of a three-year contractual period, a fresh auction was held last year, which saw many players switching bases, including the likes of Sardar Singh moving from Delhi Waveriders to Punjab Warriors. Moritz Fuerste, returning from a one-year absence, will be turning out for his new team Kalinga Lancers as the costliest player of the season.
The 2016 HIL will also have beefed up cash awards for teams and players, totaling up to a whopping Rs 5.7 crore.
The league will also have a new title sponsor in Coal India after Hero Group decided against renewing its contract.
The league will have a new scoring pattern as the orgainsers decided to introduce an innovative rule to raise the interest level of the fans. As per the new rule, one field goal will be counted as two.
Ranchi Rays, co-owned by India limited overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, are the defending champions.
The tournament, to be held across six cities, will conclude with the final in Ranchi on February 21.
The season opener promises to be an exciting contest as UP Wizards, led by star dragflicker VR Raghunath, will take on hosts Kalinga Lancers captained by star German midfielder Moritz Fuerste.
Both Wizards and Lancers will have new coaches. While Lancers replaced Jude Felix with Australian Mark Hager, the Wizards will be coached by Roger van Gent in place of Roelant Oltmans, who opted out from the post to avoid conflict of interest as he is also the High Performance Director of Indian hockey as well the chief coach of the national men’s team.
The Wizards have a formidable team that consists of stalwarts like Australian Jamie Dwyer and star internationals Tobias Hauke from Germany, Gonzalo Peillat of Argentina along with acclaimed Indians like PR Sreejesh, Akashdeep Singh and skipper Raghunath.
With some big names in his armoury, Wizards coach Van Gent expects to make a positive start to his stint in HIL.
“We are working hard and are not leaving any stones unturned to ensure a bright start to our campaign. The boys seem to be in great shape and are comfortable playing with each other. There are no injury concerns and this will allow us to test new combinations,” Van Gent said ahead of the opening match.
Lancers coach Hager is aware of the challenge that awaits his team tomorrow.
“We have a good team and over the last one week the boys have really gelled well. Having said that we cannot underestimate the opponents specially their team consists of experienced national and international stars,” he said.
“We are working hard and are hopeful that will leave a big smile for our fans in Bhubaneswar post our game tomorrow.”