Isn't it odd that while much of India will be solely zoned in on Australia and Aotearoa enjoying a cricket bounty, many of the world's best hockey players will venture to India. Sure Indians love cricket, but they also love hockey which could mean that the next month or so could be considered sporting paradise for Indians across the land.
The Hockey India League is cool, it gives hockey plenty of love and allows players the opportunity to not only earn a buck but also play hockey alongside some of the best players in the world. Not to mention playing hockey in a crazy environment where stadiums are near capacity and copious amounts of fun are to be had in the stands.
The importance of the HIL for kiwi players especially is huge as many players are amateurs, bloody skilled and dedicated amateurs. This is changing as more players are playing in European leagues, but the HIL offers the opportunity of some big (not quite IPL big) money for a month's work. Not bad huh and while players from the likes of Australia, England, Germany, Holland etc are much better funded if not professional, the HIL is still a great option.
I have dreams of hockey lovers around the world reading this, praising me for my genius and laughing at stuff I write that should be laughed at. But I'm from Aotearoa so we've got to give the Black Sticks lads some love and see who they will be representing...
Reigning champions the Delhi Waveriders have a few kiwis, just enough to make them a team to watch and get in behind. Steve Edwards, Andy Hayward and Simon Child will all call Delhi home in a strong squad that includes super Sardar Singh as well as impressive Aussies Tim Wilson and Mathew Ghodes. The Waveriders will definitely be one of the top teams and the fact that three kiwi lads will play a big part in their efforts to defend their crown make them that much more funky.
The Kalinga Lacers are fortunate to call upon Ryan Archibald, the great. Archibald should be huge for the Lacers as he's got back on the international hockey wagon and looks to be at his best despite getting on in the age department. That shouldn't worry Lacers fans though as Archibald seems above any age related problems and Archibald will join the likes of Kookaburras Glenn Simpson and Russell Ford as well as a bunch of Spanish and Argentinian internationals like Roman Algere.
One team that should provide plenty of entertainment as well as a threat for the crown is the Ranchi Rays who have Nick Wilson lacing up for them. Like Archibald, Wilson has returned to hockey just in time and there's a high chance that Wilson strikes up a lethal combination with English midfielders Ashley Jackson and Barry Middleton. Kookaburra Fergus Kavanagh is also a talented player to keep your eye on.
Shea McAleese could be a key man for the Uttar Pradesh Wizards thanks to his experience and ability to fit in where the team needs him. The Wizards have plenty of fire power with Dutch forward Jeroen Hertzberger and Aussie superstar Eddie Ockenden likely to do most of the damage along with a host of other European players. McAleese might not do the same role as Simon Child, Nick Wilson or Ryan Archibald will do for their teams, but he will give the Wizards a very solid option in the midfield or as a defender. It's not all about the razzle dazzle.
With no kiwi lads, the Punjab Warriors aren't as interesting. That is until you see that they have Jamie Dwyer, Jacob Whetton, Mark Knowles, Chris Cirello, Simon Orchard, Kieran Govers and Rob Hammond who could field their own Kookaburra's team ... maybe the Koala's instead?
The other side with no Black Sticks is Dabang Mumbai. Once again, they don't have any kiwis but they have plenty of talent with the uber impressive Matt Swann from Australia and Tom Boon who has emerged as a highly regarded international player up front with Belgium.
From a kiwi perspective, the team to keep tabs on is Delhi with three Black Sticks who will all feature heavily and play key roles. Child will feature up front with Edwards in the midfield and Hayward in defence and he'll do a fair amount of drag flicking. Child could team up with Sardar and Ghodes in a freaky attacking line which could provide many highlights.
The tournament will kick off on January 22, running for a month which will overlap with the Cricket World Cup. That means that we're pretty spoiled for sporting action and if last year was anything to go by, watching the HIL shouldn't be too much of a hassle as they stream games and are excellent with their highlights (it's amazing that some sporting leagues closer to home aren't so on the ball). The HIL has kind of slipped under the radar, so if you love hockey get in behind it because there's a strong possibility that hockey could have two major tournaments with the Europe Hockey League and the HIL both offering what hockey lovers need and want.