Settled Ranchi Rays aim for HIL title defence

Ranchi, Jan 12 (IANS) Defending champions Ranchi Rays will once again hope for their core group of players to deliver in the 4th edition of the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) being held from January 18 to February 21.

Rays have tried to maintain the combinations that worked out beautifully for them in the last edition with the retention of their English captain Ashley Jackson ($95,000), forward Barry Middleton ($67,000), Australian defender Fergus Kavanagh ($60,000), midfielder Manpreet Singh ($66,000), defender Birendra Lakra ($55,000) and Kothajit Singh ($45,000).

In a fast paced game like hockey, combinations are required even more in defence and the midfield. And the Harendra Singh-coached Rays justifiably retained the base of their team’s defence in the form of Lakra, Kothajit and seasoned Kavanagh.

Apart from the trio, Manpreet can be equally effective in both defence and midfield, while seasoned Englishmen Jackson and Middleton rightfully deserve their price tag.

Jackson, an attacking midfielder and drag-flicker, led his team from the front and scored 12 goals to help the Rays clinch the 2015 HIL title.

Out of the 12 goals, 11 came from penalty corner conversions, making him the top-scorer of 2015 and also the Player of the Tournament. The 2009 FIH Young Player of the Year will be at the forefront of the attack of Rays.

England captain Middleton has more than 350 appearances for England and the 32-year-old’s role becomes more crucial as each field goal will be considered as two in this edition.

The team has a combination of Australians, who can play different roles at the same time like midfielder/forward Flynn Ogilvie, 23-year-old Daniel Beale and 25-year-old Trent Mitton who can play a similar role. Timothy Deavin will add the necessary experience in the form of defender/midfielder. The goal will be guarded by Australian Tyler Lovell, who helped Rays win the title last year.

This year, Rays splurged $81,000 on Indian seasoned drag-flicker Sandeep Singh and he will also be a crucial addition to the squad. It may also be an indication that Jackson might be asked to concentrate more on the field goals than the set-pieces.

Indian internationals Mohammad Amir Khan and out-of-favour Sarvanjit Singh, along with India U-21 player Amir Khan will also look to impress in the forward line.

“We have a combination which worked the last time. We have gathered players who have played together for a long time with the ability to play at various positions,” assistant coach Clarence Lobo said in a release.

“We will just stick to our task and try and play a tight game.”

Rays will play their first match against last year runners-up Jaypee Punjab Warriors in Chandigarh on January 19.

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