The second edition of the Hockey India League gets underway on Saturday with Punjab Warriors taking on Delhi Waveriders in the opening match at the newly-built International Hockey Stadium in Mohali.
With the winners taking home a whooping Rs 2.5 crore and the runners up getting Rs 1.25 crore, there is a lot at stake for the teams and both Punjab and Delhi would be keen to begin the tournament on a winning note.
In the inaugural edition of the HIL last year, the two teams clashed in the semi-finals, which Delhi won 3-1. However, they lost in the final to Ranchi Rhinos.
In the bronze medal match, Punjab Warriors lost 4-3 in dramatic fashion to Uttar Pradesh Wizards despite leading 3-0 at one stage.
Punjab Warriors, who have a good mix of young and experienced players, will be led by Australian Jamie Dyer and boast of several Australian players in their team.
With Dutch goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann and experienced players like Ignace Tirkey and Mark Knowles in their ranks, Punjab boasts of a strong defensive line-up. The strong presence of Dwyer in the midfield will allow Punjab to revolve their play around the experienced captain.
Punjab's forwardline consists of players like Shivendra Singh, SV Sunil, Dharamvir Singh and a youngster Affan Yousuf, who possess the ability to torment any opposition's defense.
With the highly experienced Barry Dancer and Jagbir Singh in their think-tank, Punjab will have strategies in place before the first game.
The highest goal-scorer of the 2013 edition of HIL, Sandeep Singh was added to the Punjab Warrior's squad during the auction last year.
A fine penalty corner specialist with loads of experience, Sandeep is surely the player to watch out for not only in the first game, but the entire tournament.
Delhi Waveriders is co-owned by the Wave Group and Bollywood star John Abraham, who is a 13 per cent stake-holder of the side.
Delhi Waveriders have in their ranks a star player like Sardar Singh, who is the captain of their side and also the highest paid Indian of the league. Last season, they had an 11-match unbeaten run but could not go on to win the tournament.
This year, although they lack big names in their line-up, their overseas squad does have quite a few experienced names including Simon Child of New Zealand, Jason Wilson of Australia, Lloyd Norris-Jones of South Africa, Andres Mir of Spain and goalkeeper Nicolas Jacobi of Germany.
The onus to score goals for Delhi will be on Indian sensation Yuvraj Walmiki and penalty corner specialist Rupinder Pal Singh, who was the highest goal-scorer for the team last season.
The presence of Sardar Singh in the centre half will allow the Delhi Waveriders to break opposition attacks. His ability to feed the ball to the forward line will also help them consistently stay on the offensive.
However, it will be interesting to see whether Delhi Waveriders can ride on the experience of Sardar Singh and upset the Punjab side on their home turf.
Image: Sardar Singh (left) with Rupinder Pal Singh.
Photograph: Hero Hockey India League