New Delhi: With Pakistani players being sent back home due to cross-border tension, the HIL match between Delhi Waveriders and Mumbai Magicians scheduled tomorrow will certainly lose some of its sheen.
After protests by Shiv Sena and other right-wing outfits disrupted the training and the first match of the league following the killing of two Indian soldiers by the Pakistan Army on January 8, the Hockey India today decided to send back all the nine Pakistani players taking part in its much-hyped league.
Mumbai Magicians would be worst affected by the decision as they had maximum number of Pakistani players in their line-up -- Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmed, Muhammad Tousiq and Imran Butt.
Waveriders also had to let go Mohammed Rizwan Sr. And Mohammed Rizwan Jr. As the tournament is all set to become poorer by their non-participation.
Magicians, based out of Mumbai, became the obvious target because of Shiv Sena`s stronghold on the city while on the inaugural day of the league yesterday, two supporters from Hindu Yuwak Sabha attempted to invade the turf at the National Stadium when the match between Waveriders and Punjab Warriors was on.
However, both the teams will like to forget about the off-field issues affecting the league and focus on the challenges lying ahead.
On paper, both Delhi and Mumbai look formidable outfits. Both the teams possess a strong forwardline.
Delhi, under the inspirational leadership of Sardar Singh, started their campaign on a winning note when they defeated an equally strong Jaypee Punjab Warriors 2-1 in the lung opener of the five franchise-based tournament.
Delhi rode on goals from Oscar Deecke and Gurvinder Singh Chandi to pocket the win at Major Dhyanchand National Stadium but their coach A K Bansal wasn`t happy with the efforts put in by his wards.
"We need to improve in many areas. We committed few mistakes and our goalkeeper (Nicolas Jacobi) saved many chances. We will have to look at the combination," Bansal had said after the match last night.
The hosts certainly missed the services of their Dutch drag-flick specialist Taeke Taekema who had been ruled out of the entire event due to a back injury. Taekema, who was bought by Delhi Waveriders at his base price of Rs 13.6 lakhs, was one of the star foreign players in the HIL players` auction.
But Delhi possess a formidable attack with the likes of Gurvinder Singh Chandi, Yuvraj Walmiki, Danish Mujtaba and New Zealand`s Simon Child in their ranks.
Delhi will have to be extra cautious about Mumbai`s international stars such as Joel Carroll, Matthew Swann, Glenn Turner, goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and Sandeep Singh, who is the marquee player of the team.
The famous Indian defender was bought at base price of USD 27,800.
Sandeep said the Mumbai franchise has a good mix of foreign players.
"The team is good. The coach (Ric Charlesworth) is one of the best in the world. There are Australians, Malaysians and young Indian players. It is a good combination of Australians and Indians. Let us see what happens," he said.
The departure of Pakistan`s Imran Butt has come as a huge setback for the Mumbai franchise as the star goalkeeper was one of the goalies for the national team in the London Olympics.
Their midfield has also been depleted in the absence of Pakistan`s Tousiq, Fareed and Rashid.