Charge of the Rhinos on home turf

Take an 80-minute break from cricket frenzy. The land that gave India stick sorcerers Jaipal Singh and Sylvanus Dungdung will host its first Hockey India League (HIL) match on Friday.

After Ranchi Rhinos scored an emphatic win over Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the former's first-ever HIL outing in Jalandhar on Wednesday, the home team is all charged up for its debut in the state capital on Friday at Astroturf Hockey Stadium, Morabadi.

Giving solid defence, Ranchi Rhinos beat Punjab Warriors 2-1 in a match where the latter were clearly the Jalandhar crowd's darling. Now, Rhinos will enjoy home support against Mumbai Magicians on Friday at the floodlit match starting 8pm.

Before hockey, a 90-minute cultural event has been arranged at the venue, with Ajsu chief Sudesh Mahto as chief guest and Mandira Bedi as emcee.

Players, who reached the city on Thursday, took out a colourful road rally with traditional musical instruments and local dancers in tribal attire. They also practised under the stadium's floodlights ' it has four towers ' later in the evening.

The league team is a global coalition of players ' German captain Moritz Fuerste, English and South African players Ashley Jackson and Austin Smith, Odisha midfielder Birendra Lakra.

But co-ordination between this motley bunch is working. It's a lesson Jharkhand's political parties can well learn.

The team is promising quality hockey.

"It will be a good game at astroturf hockey stadium tomorrow," said Sunil Goenka, media coordinator of Ranchi Rhinos, the team jointly owned by entrepreneurs Suresh Chouhan, Vikram Jain and Sourabh Dugar.

To do Ranchi credit, all the 5,500 tickets for the match have sold out. Ranchi and hockey go back a long way, but the affordable prices ' Rs 60, Rs 120 and Rs 180 ' also helped. Corporate tickets, Rs 2,000 each, also found buyers.

"The players are familiar with the Morabadi venue and hockey lovers in the city are very excited," one of the owners Goenka added.

Of the 34 matches, as many as 10 have been lined up at this stadium. They include semi-finals and the final match on February 10.

In case the crowd swells up, they will be sent to Birsa Munda Football Stadium 400m away to watch the match live on giant screens free of cost.

"All tickets have been sold out but we are anticipating a large number of hockey lovers to flock the grounds tomorrow. The state sports department has asked us to arrange big screen display of the match in that case. The district administration has also planned elaborate security arrangement," said Suresh Singh, HIL Ranchi coordinator.

The HIL, a domestic hockey event on the lines of the mega cricket showcase event IPL, debuted this year to give the national game a fillip. Team India did not make the cut at Beijing Olympics in 2008 and finished last among 12 teams in the London Olympics of 2012.

It's a far cry from the bygone speed, style and smash-hits. Add gravity-defying dribbling and good old patriotism ' this was Indian hockey at its best, winning eight Olympic gold medals.

Jharkhand connect with Indian hockey is as strong as the stick and the ball. The state's Jaipal Singh played with Dhyan Chand in the team that won India its first Olympic gold in 1928 in Amsterdam. In 1980, when India won its last Olympic gold in Moscow, the team had another Jharkhand protagonist in Dungdung.

Will hockey enjoy a revival in cricket-crazy capital?

Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com

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