Labourers spruce up the greens at Astroturf Hockey Stadium in Morabadi, Ranchi, on Monday. (Hardeep Singh)
Reigning champs Ranchi Rhinos arrived in the capital on Monday for a practice session, ahead of the second edition of Hockey India League (HIL), slated to kick off from January 25 at Mohali.
But the Rhinos will begin their 2014 campaign on home ground when they lock horns with Uttar Pradesh Wizards at Astroturf Hockey Stadium, Morabadi, on January 26.
Team captain and German star Moritz Furste did not accompany the squad on Monday. He will join his team early next week, giving the first two matches a miss.
Soon after landing at Birsa Munda airport early morning, the Rhinos headed for Radisson Blu.
“Since most players have travelled a lot, no practice was scheduled for today. However, some players visited the stadium in the evening to take a look of facilities. The team will hit the turf in phases from tomorrow for practice,” said a senior management official.
The 2014 edition of HIL will have six teams compared to five last year.
Ranchi Rhinos apart, new entrant Kalinga Lancers, Dabur Mumbai Magicians, Uttar Pradesh Wizards, Delhi Waveriders and Jaypee Punjab Warriors are the other teams. Each will play 10 matches starting from January 25 in Mohali.
Furtse’s absence will make Rhinos’ first two matches against Uttar Pradesh Wizards and Delhi Waveriders rather tense. Both team and management are, however, hopeful of a rerun of 2013’s performances.
“We feel the team is stronger now with the likes of Barry Middleton (England), Marc Salles Esteve (Spain), Sukhmanjit Singh and Amon Mirash Tirkey joining the squad,” remarked an official.
Team co-owner Sourabh Dugar conceded Furtse’s absence will be a challenge, but added they were hopeful of a roaring start. “Our captain will join us on January 27 night and play from the third match onwards. Every player in our team is a star and technical heads and coaches will mix and match compositions depending upon daily requirements,” he said.
Middleton, a silver winner at 2010 Champions Trophy, agreed. “HIL excited me in the first edition. I am fortunate to be picked by Ranchi Rhinos. I am told that the crowd here is electric. That’s a huge plus,”
Dugar, however, rued limited seating capacity at the Morabadi venue. “It is ironic that Ranchi with its great fan base for hockey has a stadium with just 5,000 seats. We requested state government for more galleries, but I don’t know what happened. But overall, we are happy with the arrangements,” said Dugar.