The Hockey India League 2016 came to a close on Sunday with Jaypee Punjab Warriors, who had lost the last two finals in a shoot out, finally lifting the trophy following a 6-1 – Field Goals being worth two – victory over Kalinga Lancers.
It was interesting to have the two goals for a field goal trialled in the competition. It actually only affected the result of two games out of 34 matches, both times in favour of Dabang Mumbai who in traditional scoring had a 4-4 draw with Ranchis Rays but won 7-5 by scoring more field goals and also against UP Wizards where a traditional 1-1 draw became a 2-1 win.
Of course one area that it did have an impact was when it came to the top scorer of the tournament. Many have felt that drag flickers have had an unfair advantage as they nearly always win the top goalscorer award at every major tournament, so welcomed a change. Australian Glenn Turner who had a great tournament up front for the Kalinga Lancers took out the award with 6 Field goals, 2 Penalty Corners and one Penalty stroke worth 2 goals making a total of 16 goals. Ranchi Rays Ashley Jackson was second with 14 goals (3FG and 8PC) while Rupinder Pal Singh actually scored the most goals, firing home 12 Penalty Corners.
There is no doubt that the rule had an impact on the way the game was played and the thought processes on the pitch. It did make the final minutes of matches more exciting as teams knew that a field goal when trailing by one goal would turn a defeat into a victory and 5 points as opposed to one on the league table.
Did the rule result in more field goals? This year there were 138 goals scored worth 220 goals. There were 55 Penalty Corner goals, 80 Field goals and 3 Penalty strokes. Incredibly in 2015 there were 139 goals scored and 55 were from penalty corners, 80 from field goals and there were 4 Penalty strokes. So the end result has been almost exactly the same.
There were however more penalty corners won in 2016, 249 as opposed to 240 last year.
At the conclusion of the tournament it was announced that the Hockey India League 2017 will be increased in size to seven teams with a franchise from Bangalore being included for the first time. This is good news and hopefully an eighth team will not be too far away.
One topic that the new franchise does raise is whether the league needs to expand its horizons when recruiting foreign players. Next year the Dutch and Belgian player will be available with no Olympic Games, but should the league be looking to Asia?
There are obviously language issues with many of the top players in Asia not speaking a great deal of English, but this should not discount including these nation’s players. South Korea, Pakistan and Malaysia will all be missing from the Olympic Games this year. No South Korea for the first time in 27 Years, and no Pakistan for the first time in 36 years.
The Hockey India League has helped the young India players develop over the past 4 years, but it will not benefit Indian Hockey if all of its closest rivals in the region fall by the wayside. India needs strong competition within the region to maintain its position in the world rankings and be competitive against the top nations in the world.
So should the league welcome players from South Korea, Malaysia, Japan and China? Pakistan is sadly a whole different issue and sadly a very complex one. However, World Hockey would love to see Pakistan back to its best and its magical players playing in in the best competitions around the world. Hopefully a solution will be found soon.
So will the HIL see some Asian players included in 2017? Who will coach the new franchise? Having had experience in Asia would Paul Lissek be the man, or with Terry Walsh now involved in Malaysia would he be welcomed back to India? Is there an Indian Coach waiting the wings, or would a respected Pakistani such as Tahir Zaman get the nod? So many questions that will hopefully bubble along in the coming year and keep the interest in the league going and not forgotten about for the next 10 months.
There was no doubt – having commentated on the last three – that this year the standard of hockey ramped up a notch, and the competition was far more even than in previous years. That can only be good for the future.