New Delhi: After the financial gains in the pocket, press conferences done and game plans in order, 120 hockey players - including the best from India and around the world - are ready to show their stick-work on the field of play in the Hockey India League (HIL).
The franchise-based league has the International Hockey League (FIH) stamp on it and will begins here at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Monday with the opening match to be played between hosts Delhi Waveriders and visitors Jaypee Punjab Warriors at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
The five-team tournament, brainchild of Hockey India (HI) and a cousin of cricket's Indian Premier League, will renew hope of a new dawn in Indian hockey after missing the Olympics bus to Beijing in 2008 and finishing rock bottom in London earlier this year. And it began on the right note with corporates throwing in the money and securing players' financial status.
Sahara Pariwar (Uttar Pradesh Warriors), Wave Group (Delhi Waveriders), Jaypee Group (Punjab Warriors), Dabur Group (Mumbai Magicians) and Patel-Uniexcel Group (Ranchi Rhinos) have thrown their weight behind hockey in India - which is enough motivation for the players to perform at both the domestic and international level.
The better Indian players play the more they stand to earn in the subsequent auctions for the future editions. Performance in the HIL is also sure to catch the eye of HI selectors and coach Michael Nobbs who will be watching the tournament closely.
India captain and one of the five players named for FIH player of the year 2012, Sardar Singh was pocketed by Delhi for $78,000 - the yearly fee for a three-year contract. FIH player of the year for 2012 Moritz Fuerste was lapped up by Ranchi Rhinos for $75,000, veteran Dutch international Teun de Nooijer by UP for $66,000 and Australia captain Jamie Dwyer by Punjab for $60,000. Penalty corner specialist Sandeep Singh went to Mumbai for his base price after being dropped from the Indian team following the London Games.
These five are the marquee players who also stand to gain an additional contract fee, which will be 15 percent higher than the next player in their respective squad. Of these, Sardar and Dwyer are also the brand ambassadors of the HIL. Each squad has 10 foreign and 14 Indian players.
The tournament includes 34 matches spread over 28 days from January 14 to February 10, 2012. The excitement is quite palpable in the comment made by Punjab captain Dwyer, who thinks hockey stars have all the right to be paid as well as the cricketers and footballers. "Never received a better fee to play hockey for a month," the Australia captain said. "We work very hard, equal to what the cricketers and the footballers do, so no reason why we should not get what they get."
Sardar nicely summed up what HIL means to India. "HIL will not only provide financial security to the players but also popularise hockey in the country, which is an equally important motivation for the players," he said on the sidelines of Delhi's practice session.
India coach Nobbs, who will be travelling to watch potential India players during the tournament, "I will be watching the HIL very closely, especially the under-21 players who will also be part of the Junior World Cup to be held in India later this year. I hope to get 7 or 8 from that pool for the Rio 2016 Games."
So no effort in the organisation of the HIL is half-hearted. The federation, organisers, franchises, players, coaches and support staff are all eager to give it their best shot with the world's best coming under one umbrella like never before. Nothing like it if HIL paves way for Indian hockey to put its recent disappointments behind and revive the glorious past when we were the undisputed Olympic and world champions.