The much anticipated Hero Hockey India league got off to a magnificent start as the M.S Dhoni owned outfit, the Ranchi Rays capitulated to the high octane and counterattacking prowess of the home side, the Kalinga Lancers.
The Kalinga Stadium played host to the first game of the Hero Hockey India League. Having dominated their previous encounter against Ranchi (then named as Ranchi Rhinos) , with a thumping 4-1 victory, the Kalinga Lancers started out as the clear favorites.
As is his personality, Jude Felix, coach of the Kalinga Lancers opted to go in for a balanced side, selecting youthful players with immense pace, deploying Mandeep Antil, Mohammed Amir and Lucas Vila among his attacking options. In contrast to his counterpart, former national coach Harendra Singh chose to pack the midfield, with captain Ashley Jackson and Barry Middleton at the heart of the midfield.
Kalinga Lancers Draw First Blood
With the atmosphere around the Kalinga Stadium electrifying, the first quarter of the match began with the away side making all the early running within the first five minutes. However, the pacy flankmen of the Kalinga Lancers came into play as the high octane speed caught the defensive pairing of Birendra Lakra and Justin Reid-Ross by surprise.
The first goal by Argentine Lucas Vila itself came due to a simple goalkeeping error. The low powered shot from Vila found its way through custodian Tyler Lovell’s legs. Despite Birendra Lakra’s best efforts to clear the ball from the line, the Lancers found themselves a goal ahead.
Kalinga Lancers Dominate to finish first half ahead
Shortly after the goal, a shell shocked Ranchi Rays found themselves on the attacking front, with coach Harendra Singh pooling a majority of the resources into attack. He went on to bench Ashley Jackson, thus signalling the intent of the Ranchi Rays. Sure enough, the Rays were back on level terms just before the first period courtesy of a magnificent backhanded effort from Barry Middleton. The Englishman’s shot, found its way past Lancers’ goaltender Andrew Carter.
However, despite finishing the first quarter on a high, the Lancers were once again on the attack. A flurry of penalty corners ensured that the pressure was maintained on the Rays. Argentine international Gonzalo Pellat failed to convert the penalty corners and let the Rays off the hook. However, it would not be long before the Lancers struck back.
Some inspiring build up play from Lalit Kumar Uphadyay and Vickram Kanth ensured that the half would conclude in favor of the home side. Goals from New Zealand veteran Ryan Jeffery Archibald and captain Vickram Kanth ended a fantastic first half 3-1 in favour of the Kalinga Lancers.
The Ashley Jackson Show
A green card for the Englishman in the first quarter summed up a dismal first half for Ranchi captain Ashley Jackson. However, the Ashley Jackson that emerged through the tunnel in the second half was the complete opposite. Sensing the opportunity to pick up valuable away points on enemy territory, Ashley Jackson’s magnificent game play came to the fore.
Nobody knows what Harendra Singh said during the half time break, but it was effective, as Jackson clearly became the focal point of all the Ranchi attacks. A flurry of penetrations and long corners, mostly instigated by Jackson, quickly put the Lancers on the back foot. The continued pressure bore fruit as the Rays won their first penalty corner. A clam drag-flick from the Englishman ensured that the deficit was reduced to a solitary goal.
However, Jackson’s good work was eventually undone, courtesy of another counterattack from the Lancers, wining them a penalty corner. Instead of Pellat, Gurjinder Singh stepped up and found his drag-flick effort breeze past the outstretched hand of Tyler Lovell to stretch the Kalinga lead to 4-2.
One of the most beautiful sights in hockey is to watch Ashley Jackson on the ball. Despite not showing much industry and creativity in the first half, the Rays’ captain once again led from the front to put a greater deal of pressure on the Kalinga defence. The Englishman’s influence, once again created cracks in the opposition defence, as a penalty corner was eventually won. Having missed his previous drag-flick, Jackson calmly slotted the ball into the bottom right corner to keep the visitors in the game (3-4).
Kalinga Lancers Score to Secure Maximum Points
With the final quarter left to play, the game was wide open. However, once again, Ashley Jackson’s magnificent work was undone, as the counterattacking prowess of the home side came to the fore yet again. Mandeep Antil found himself on the score sheet, following his incredible diving effort off a Mohammed Amir Khan cross to take Kalinga to five goals. The latter too would find his name on the score sheet following his backhanded shot, that found its way past the substitute goaltender Sushant Tirkey, thus ensuring that his side came away victors with the scoreboard reading 6-3.
So a good start for the HIL with an exciting match and a lot of goals. The Kalinga Lancers will be happy to get full points , while the Ranchi Rays will look to strengthen their defence in order to stay competitive in the league.