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Rhinos ready for an encore

Calcutta: ‘Nas nas mein hockey’— (hockey is in our blood) is the tag line of defending champions Ranchi Rhinos and they are all set to live up to that as the second Hockey India League (HIL) begins on Saturday.

The Ranchi Rhinos have been become stronger with the inclusion of Barry Middleton (England), Marc Salles Esteve (Spain), Sukhmanjit Singh (who could not play last season because of injury), Amon Mirash Tirkey and Eduard Arbos Borras (Spain) in their ranks.

The chief coach Gregg Clark and coach Baljeet Singh Saini, in the city along with the players to promote the team and also pay tribute to the legendary Leslie Claudius, said that the team were looking forward to defending their crown.

Captain and German star Moritz Furste remains the mainstay of the team, but he was not present at the media interaction with the team on Sunday. Furste will reach India on January 24 and go to Ranchi directly.

The Ranchi Rhinos are also banking on Birendra Lakra, Ashley Jackson, Amit Rohidas, Manpreet and Mandeep Singh.

The Ranchi Rhinos are owned by Calcutta-based Asia Sports Ventures and coached by Baljeet, who is also from the city. But not a single player from Bengal have found a place in their team.

Baljeet, happy with the combination of players the defending champions have got this year, said that leagues like the HIL help players from all over the world to hone their skills and improve.

“There are top players playing in the league and Indian players get to interact with top level players from other countries and coaches. Naturally, everyone benefits.”

With 2014 being a busy year — with the World Cup, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games — the fitness of Indian players is uppermost in the minds of all concerned. However, Saini said: “Players these days know how to keep themselves fit. They are aware. It is not like what it used to be when we used to play. I don’t think India need to worry too much.”