Hockey India League (HIL) may well turn out to be the national game's comeback. And London Olympic star, German midfield ace Moritz F�rste (also Fuerste) who is captaining Ranchi Rhinos, one of HIL's five teams, may well be its winning shot.
Veteran of two Olympics ' the London one ended with a German gold for his team ' 28-year-old F�rste, FIH World Player of the Year, is among the world's finest dribblers. Debuting in international hockey less than a decade ago, F�rste recently joined the 200th cap club for Germany with as many as 67 international goals.
It is probably these statistics that made HIL rope in F�rste to lead one of the HIL teams. Ranchi's gain is also Indian hockey's gain.
The HIL, which begins on Monday with Punjab Warriors taking on Delhi Waveriders at Major Dhyanchand National Stadium, New Delhi, will have its grand finale in Ranchi on February 10. Before that, the state capital will host important matches in Ranchi on January 18, 23 and 28 and February 1 and 9.
F�rste, who's aggressive on the field but introverted off it, told The Telegraph he was looking forward to playing in the HIL. "We all revere India for its many hockey greats," he said.
Eight-time Olympic champions, India failed to qualify a berth at Beijing in 2008 and finished last among 12 teams in London 2012.
To rescue hockey from going down under, the HIL is hoping to build a strong domestic circuit with Indian players getting the chance to rub shoulders with global greats. For example, if Ranchi Rhinos has F�rste, Dutch legend Teun De Nooijer is playing for Uttar Pradesh Wizards.
F�rste, however, struck the right note when he said he liked "the style of Indian players". "I wouldn't point out any one player but the current Indian side has skill. They're technically brilliant. Winning and losing depend on luck and how you play on a given day," he said.
How does the champion rate astroturf hockey stadium, Morabadi? "The turf is good and is suited for day-and-night matches," was his thumbs-up.
On Ranchi Rhinos, he said: "It's a heady mix of talent, experience and fresh legs. We hope to make a rocking start and survive till the end."
The hockey champ was also candid about cash. "As a hockey player in Germany, you don't get chance to earn a lot of money in your career. So it's nice to get something back after so many years of playing." But he quickly added that the concept intrigued him. "It will be great to see how the mix of Indian and global players works out," he said. Don't worry F�rste, just ask Mahi how it is to play in the IPL.