NEW DELHI: Where’s the buzz? After glib promos, ritzy build-up and the promise of a bigger and better fare, the third installment of the Hockey India League, the supposed regenerator of Indian hockey’s glorious past, has wholesomely sneaked under the radar of public consciousness.
Who’s to blame? For long, the hockey fraternity had condemned cricket for all that’s grime in their setup. It took time to wipe their cobwebs of perception and accept their inept administration and dated system as the culprits of their downfall. The ICC World Cup offers them another excuse to accuse cricket. The clash of fixtures had pre-scripted the HIL’s anonymity.
What was the alternative? It’s not an ill-fated coincidence. The World Cup itinerary was announced well in advance. The HIL, if they had wanted more eyeballs glued to it, and if they were shrewd enough, should have tweaked the calendar accordingly. The January 15-February 15 window would have ensured better TRP ratings. The period was largely devoid of marquee international fixtures as well, unlike last year where it was sandwiched between World Hockey League and the FIH World Cup. “We had looked into, but there was no other window. We couldn’t start it in January because the players were too tired after the hectic year,” reasoned HI secretary Narinder Batra.
Will HIL suffer reverse momentum? The first two editions largely lived up to the hype. But with snazzier leagues like the ISL and PKL forging an emotional bond with the audience, it’s better that HIL improvises. They might still excite hockey enthusiasts, a thinly-stocked tribe. But for hockey, or for that matter any other non-cricketing sport to thrive in the country, it needs to expand its audience base or in marketing terms, ‘reach’. It’s still the national game, but not a game the nation in obsessed with.
How can it recapture the nation’s imagination? Stars and more stars is the simple answer. Not just the overseas stars, but home-grown ones also. The HIL has proved that stacking overseas greats hardly strikes a chord with the laymen. Almost every former player agrees that the sport needs a new hero. Not that Sardar Singh, the best player to have emerged from the country since Dhanraj Pillay, has inferior credentials. But hockey needs someone who can infuse some glamour into the sport. So the next India hockey great could be more David Beckham than Dhyan Chand.
Can the HIL sign this season off on a high? The menu looks delicious - star-studded Ranchi Rays tilting lances with the perseverant Uttar Pradesh Wizards and defending champions Delhi Waveriders and Jaypee Warriors Punjab engaged in a replay of last year’s final, one which was decided in the shoot-out.
Like last year, Punjab has been the most intimidating side, apart from the last phase, wherein they lost a couple of matches and stammered to defeat bottom-dwellers Mumbai Magicians. And in Delhi they have a plucky proposition, irrespective of that they had endured a woefully inconsistent season. Punjab were clearly the better side in their meetings this year—in the last, they tonked them 7-0. Waveriders’ skipper Sardar Singh admitted it has left a scar, but Delhi would draw confidence from the talent pool at their disposal.
Like Punjab, Ranchi too enjoys a faultless record over Uttar Pradesh. For the latter to halt Ranchi, they need to strangle Ashley Jackson, their creative figurehead. In defence of HIL, from Jackson to Sardar and Moritz Furste to Floris Evers, it has guaranteed hockey of the highest order. Now, it’s for the audience to lap it up.
Semifinal line-ups: Ranchi Rays vs Uttar Pradesh Wizards (4.30 pm); Jaypee Warriors Punjab vs Delhi Waveriders (7pm); Live on Star Sports 2&3.