PHL to kick off on Thursday

A new chapter in Indian sports unfolds tomorrow as the much-awaited inaugural edition of the Premier Hockey League kicks off tomorrow.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:47 IST
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A new chapter in Indian sports unfolds tomorrow as the much-awaited inaugural edition of the Premier Hockey League kicks off at the floodlit Gachibowli Stadium here. Among the many firsts that the event would bring to Indian hockey, the most important would be the touch of professionalism with 13 foreign players showcasing their skills in the Rs. 71 lakh prize money extravaganza. Two-tier league The two-tier league, to be played over a month-long period, has been devised in American baseball league style, tailor-made for television and featuring teams with macho names. The matches would be played in double-leg round-robin format, with five teams featuring star players in the Premier Division vying for the winner's purse of Rs. 30 lakh and as many in the First Division, the winner of which will bag Rs. four lakh. The sudden exit of Gerard Rach as the national coach combined with the recent caustic remarks of Indian Hockey Federation chief KPS Gill on current and former players, might have marred the festive air to some extent but the players were nevertheless enthusiastic about the event. All eyes on Abbas The spotlight would be on Pakistan's short corner specialist Sohail Abbas who would appear for Hyderabad Sultans led by Indian skipper Dilip Tirkey in the Premier Division. The hosts take on Sher-e-Jalandhar, captained by star Indian forward Gagan Ajit Singh, in the inaugural tie. Bangalore Hi-Fliers, headed by Arjun Halappa, Maratha Warriors (Viren Rasquinha) and Chennai Veerans (Ignace Tirkey) are the other three teams in the fray. Gagan, who opted to be silent on the Gill's remarks that he needs to go back to basics, said that his team would start as the favourite as it had a strong defence and attack. Strong defence Maratha Warriors too have a strong defence and equally aggressive forwards in Dhanraj Pillay and Viren Rasquinha with talented Indian custodian Adrian D'Souza guarding the post. Chennai Veerans have a good mix of experience and youth with Ignace Tirkey at the helm. Bimal Lakra, Spanish star Juan Paablo Escarre and goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan make the team more formidable. Dilip Tirkey's Hyderabad Sultans, despite having the services of Sohail Abbas and Wasim Ahmed (both Pakistan), looks a moderate team while Bangalore Hi-Fliers have a balanced side with Prabodh Tirkey, Mudassar Ali Khan, Len Aiyappa and Pawal Lakra in their ranks. Nawaabs, Dynamos in First Division The First Division, which kicks off on Friday, comprises Lucknow Nawaabs led by Rajneesh Mishra, Chandigarh Dynamos (Sukhbir Singh Gill), Imphal Rangers (Brojen Singh), Delhi Dazzlers (Anurag Raghuvanshi) and Bengal Tigers (Iqbal Singh). The matches feature four quarters of 17-1/2 minutes each. But more radical would be the reduction of players on each side as a tie heads for the tie-breaker. While 11 players will be on the field during the 70-minute regulation time, a side would be reduced to nine in the first extended time of 15 minutes. The number would go down to seven in the next 10 minutes. (PTI)