In every sporting contest they say that if you want to win championships you must win your home games. This becomes even more important in competitions where travel is a big issue.
In the 2017 edition of the Hockey India League to try and take some of the burden off the players, and no doubt to also try and save the Franchises added costs, the scheduling of games was set up to try and save teams travelling back and forth across the country with intermittent home and away games.
The draw saw Dabang Mumbai, a franchise that had never made the semi-finals of the Hockey India League, be granted their first five games at home. They drew their opening game which meant they picked up two points for the draw, won the next three and lost their last home game by a single goal, so also picked up a point for losing by less than two goals. So they were off to a good start with 18 points on the league ladder out of a possible 25.
Ranchi Rays played their first game away from home and then played their next five games at home in front of their passionate and loud fans. They lost the opening game on the road but at home won two, drew two and lost one. They picked up 14 points out of 25.
Kalinga Lancers had two games at home then went away and played Ranchi. They came back home for a game before playing Mumbai away, and then finished off their home games. They won three at home and lost two and failed to pick up a losing point so recorded 15 points from 25.
Delhi Waveriders did not play a game at home until Match 16 of the tournament, and Jaypee Punjab Warriors not until Match 18 and UP Wizards not until Round 19. Punjab are playing their five games at home now and have one more on the road to UP Wizards. Delhi have four games at home before a trip to the Punjab and then return home for their last home game. UP Wizards have played one game at home and finish all their away games before being drawn to have four home games to round out the league competition. However they are unfortunate that elections in Uttar Pradesh clash with two of those games which means that UP Wizards now have to play two of those games in Delhi, and one against Delhi.
Delhi have so far won two of their three home games and have picked up 11 points from a possible 15. While Punjab have won only one and have six points out of a possible 15.
Some would say the ideal situation is coming into the important part of the tournament, when finals places are up for grabs, it is better to have home ground advantage. Others will say that those early games, and not having to travel will help the team to gel, find form and gain momentum, which will help them through the road trips.
On the road Mumbai have won two and lost one, Kalinga have won one, drawn one and lost two, while Ranchi have yet to win on the road, so far having drawn one and lost two. The three teams who have spent more time on the road have similar records. UP Wizards have won two, Drawn one and lost one. Delhi have drawn one and lost two. Punjab have won two and lost two. So has having those games at home before hitting the road helped?
What it has done is make the league table very interesting reading and possibly deceptive. Dabang Mumbai sit on top of the ladder with 28 points, having played eight games. Kalinga are second on 23 points having played nine games, and in third are Ranchi with 18 points having played eight games.
The three teams who have been on the road, and who are about to embark on hosting the other teams are Punjab, Up Wizards and Delhi on 17pts, and 15pts respectively; UP and Delhi on the same points. Punjab has played seven games so have three to go, and UP Wizards and Delhi have played six and have four games to go. With five points for a win these teams could easily overhaul all of the teams above them.
There are three games which will be crucial. Match 25 when Punjab plays Delhi at home, Match 27 when UP Wizards play Delhi, originally at home but now being played in Delhi, and match 28 when Up Wizards take on Punjab. No doubt the three teams currently on top of the table will be watching these games with great interest as they will be hoping that one of these teams draw or one beats the others and prevents the losing team picking up a point for losing by two goals or less.
If UP wizards and Delhi win three of their last games they will both jump to 30 points. Both of them have to play Mumbai. These two games will be Mumbai’s last games and their very last game is against Up Wizards back in Lucknow. That game could end up deciding the final four teams in the Hockey India League for 2017.
Bonus points could well play a key part in the final equation. However the tournament plays out, and no matter which teams make it through to the semi finals there is no doubt debate will rage as to whether teams benefit from playing all of their home games at the start of the tournament or at the end. One thing that is very clear is that home form is still the key. If these three teams beat Kalinga, Mumbai and Ranchi at home then it will come down to their games against each other, and whether if they lose they pick up bonus points or not. This will determine whether all three climb the ladder and crash into the semi finals.
This is an incredibly exciting conclusion to the tournament. Was the format fair? Fans of the teams who miss out will undoubtedly cry foul. Those who qualify for the finals may well stay quiet, and simply leave that debate to the chai houses.