After facing criticism for last year's lengthy schedule, the Premier Hockey League will have fewer matches in the fourth edition of the tournament, starting December 20 in Chandigarh.
Thirty-seven matches were played in the last league, leading to criticism from participating foreign players.
This year, the 22-day premier hockey tournament of India will have 26 matches, which include a round-robin league, the semi-finals and a best-of-three final.
However, the Indian Hockey Federation denied that last year's long schedule had anything to do with the lesser matches this year, saying that the number of games has been curtailed due to shortage of time ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.
"There is time constraint as this is the Olympic qualifiers year. The shortened duration of the tournament is because of that. Next year we will be back to the original format," IHF president KPS Gill said at a press conference in Delhi on Friday.
In order to encourage younger players, striker Tushar Khandekar and midfielder Sardara Singh have been made captains of Bangalore Hi-Fliers and Hyderabad Sultans respectively.
The other captains are: Dilip Tirkey (Orissa Steelers), Kanwalpreet Singh (Sher-e-Jalandhar), Rajpal Singh (Chandigarh Dynamos), Adam Sinclair (Chennai Veerans) and Viren Rasquinha (Maratha Warriors).
Laying emphasis on youth, 21 players from the under-19 and under-21 age groups have been included in the seven teams.
In addition there will be 21 foreign players, whose names will be announced later.
The winners will take home Rs 40 lakh as prize-money while the runners-up will be richer by Rs 20 lakh. The losing semi-finalists will win a purse of Rs 5 lakh each.
Gill said lack of infrastructure is a major impediment in moving the tournament to other cities, but next year it may be held at other venues.
"We need three things for holding the tournament: good hotels, astro-turf laid ground and floodlights. Jalandhar is coming up. The astro-turf has been relaid and floodlights have been installed there.
"Besides, in Bangalore they are to sign an MoU to put up a new turf and lights. Rourkela and Guwahati will also have floodlights soon. So three-four new venues will be ready for next year," he added.
Gill said the PHL has made the game popular and mixed results are coming for the national team.
"The game is growing in popularity. A large number of people are coming to watch domestic hockey, which is not seen in other sports. During the Asia Cup in Chennai, the crowd was huge.
"Wins and losses will continue. PHL has given a lot of players. People watch them. Things have changed, the criticism being made earlier has stopped," he said.
To make the league more popular, the broadcasters of the event, ESPN Star Sports, will start a new marketing initiative to promote this year's meet.
"We will soon be launching an innovative marketing campaign to promote this year's edition. We will be using a mix of on-air, print and other forms of promotional tools to build excitement around the league," Chief Operating Officer of ESS, Vijay Rajput, said.
Making an obvious reference to the Essel Group-backed Indian Cricket League, Leisure Sports Management's S S Dasgupta asserted that PHL is becoming popular every year.
"It's popularity can be gauged from the fact that other people are following it. Even the teams of a cricket league have similar names. It's good for PHL," he said.
Dasgupta said efforts are still on to make the PHL teams financially self-sufficient.
"We have a plan to introduce the buying and selling of players and make the teams self-sufficient. But it is still on drawing boards. We do not want the sides to be spoon-fed. It will take some time, it cannot be done overnight," he said.
Orissa Steelers: Dilip Tirkey (c), William Xalxo, Jitendra Saroha, Prabodh Tirkey, Roshan Minz, Bruno Hadrian Lugun, Sunil Yadav, Damandeep Singh, Sunil Ekka, Birendra Lakra, Gurupeet Singh, Ignace Tirkey, Amardeep Ekka, Eliazar Lakra, Ajitesh Rai.
Sher-E-Jalandhar: Kanwalpreet Singh (c), Gurvinder Singh Chandi, Kulwinder Singh, Jarnail Singh, Davinder Singh Bath, Harpal Singh, Prabhdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Yodhvir Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Pradeep Kumar, Ranjodh Singh, Gagan Ajit Singh, Gurwinder Singh, Jugraj Singh, Sarvanjit Singh.
Chandigarh Dynamos: Rajpal Singh (c), Baljit Singh, Surinder Singh, Sandeep Singh, S S Gill, Gaurav Tokhi, Jaswinder Singh, Sanjeev Kumar, Irshaad Ali, Deepak Thakur, Inderjit Chadha, Prabhjot Singh, Ravi Pal, Sher Singh, Dharamveer Singh.
Chennai Veerans: Adam Sinclair (c), Sanawar Ali, Sreejesh PR, Isaac Muthuselvan, Sivabalan, Kumar Senthil Kumar, Innocent Kullu, Mahendra Singh, Raja V, Ashwin, Raghunath, Sommanna, Danish Mujtaba, Vikramjit Singh.
Maratha Warriors: Viren Rasquinha (c), Adrian D'Souza, Suraj Kanta, Kuldeep Singh, Gurbaj Singh, Vikram Pillay, Ajmer Singh, Girish Pimple, Tyrone Pereira, Dhananjay Mahadik, Bharat Kumar Chikara, Shivender Singh, Alden D'Souza, Hardeep Singh, Mirza.
Bangalore Hi-Fliers: Tushar Khandekar (c), Bharath Kumar Chhetri, Len Aiyappa, PT Rao, Ajay Kumar Saroha, Vinaya VS, Bimal Lakra, Arjun Halappa, Vikram Kanth, Cheeyanna, Hari Prasad, Sandeep Michael, SV Sunil, KA Nilesh, Kamarjit Singh.
Hydrabad Sultans: Sardara Singh (c), Dinesh Ekka, Samir Baxla, Jasbir Singh, Diwakar Ram, Johnson Ekka, Anand Tirkey, Nitin Kumar, Didar Singh, Pramod Kumar, Bikas Toppo, Pawal Lakra, Veer Singh, Kulbhushan, KM Chengappa.