Kolkata: Overwhelmed by their success in the Hockey India League (HIL), owners of winners Ranchi Rhinos feel the country will gain heavily from the new concept and will be a force to reckon with in the 2016 Olympics.
"I have little doubt that India will be the team to watch out for in Rio 2016, all thanks to HIL," said Ranchi Rhinos co-owner Saurav Dugar, a few days after they won the inaugural HIL. Backed by a boisterous home support, the Rhinos bounced back to beat Delhi Waveriders 2-1 in a thrilling summit clash at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Ranchi on February 10.
"The process has already begun. HIL's roaring success would augur well for Indian hockey in the years to come," he said. The Rhinos may not have got the kind the reception last year's IPL winners Kolkata Knight Riders were acorded, but the city-based owners are not complaining.
"The biggest recognition for us will come when India do well at International level. It will take some time but the journey has already begun," Dugar said. The Indians, be it the experienced out-of-form players or the rookies, have gained heavily having wielded the stick together with the likes of Jamie Dwyers and Moritz Fuerstes in the 28-day extravaganza.
"Many (Indians) lacked confidence initially but as the tournament progressed, they hit the purple patch," Dugar said, referring to youngster Mandeep Singh (Most Promising Player) and Delhi captain Sardar Singh (Player of the Tournament). Behind Ranchi's success story was another young entrepreneur Diya Chauhan, another co-owner, who worked off the field 24x7 to bring up the team together.
A team that had talented youngsters from the tribal belt of Jharkhand and other parts of the country along with Olympic double gold medallist in Moritz Fuerste among 20 foreigners, the biggest challenge was to bring them up together. "Most of the Indian players could not communicate in English, but we gave them a family-like atmosphere," Diya said.
The biggest plus point for us was that Rhinos clicked as a team, she said. "The credit goes to our support staff (head coach Greg Clark, goalkeeping coach David Staniforth, physio David John and Baljit Singh Saini) who worked overtime to bring out the best from the team.
"We all are happy that they clicked together as a team," Dugar said. Self-confessed hockey novices, the Kolkata-based duo got hooked because of the sheer pace of the game. "Cricket and the IPL now seem boring. If cricket is a game in the first gear, hockey would be in the fifth gear," Diya said.
The Rhinos have become such a hit that their signature horn-style greeting is being copied by all players of the HIL. "I don't know how it came up. But everybody now starts greeting with the horn style. We really are overwhelmed by the phenomenal success," she added.
There was a hint of regret that Kolkata did not have the best of facilities when it came to hockey but they were really satisfied with the way Ranchi adopted the new team. "It's a bit of regret that we cannot have any match here with no artificial turf here. But Ranchi has adopted us well. From day one, they were behind us. And, when we made the final, tickets were being sold in black, double the price."
"We have made suggestions to increase the capacity of the (Birsa Munda) stadium so that more people can get in next year," Dugar said. The Rhinos have plans to come up with hockey clinics, exchange programmes and exhibitional matches.
"We will soon have cynics in Ranchi, while we have plans to organise some exhibitional matches here in Kolkata. There will also be exchange programmes ahead of the Champions League (similar to that of CLT20 in IPL) later this year," Dugar said. The Rhinos are a team owned by Asia Sports Ventures that belong to Saurav Dugar, Diya Chauhan and Vikram Jain of Bangalore.