[India], Jan. 7 (ANI): With less than a fortnight to go for the much-awaited 2017 season of the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) slated to commence on 21 January in Mumbai, Indian ace dragflicker and defender VR Raghunath has sounded a caution that the Uttar Pradesh Wizards will be the team to watch out for in this year's Coal India HIL.
"We are the one team with maximum Semi Final appearances and this time we will be looking at breaking that jinx and moving into the Final," a confident Raghunath stated.
Apart from Raghunath, the UP Wizards team features Indian senior men's team skipper PR Sreejesh, India forwards Ramandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh, midfielder Chinglensana Singh Kanjugam apart from junior India colts' defender Gurinder Singh.
The team also includes a formidable line-up of foreign players such as Netherlands Sander Baart, Wouter Jolie and Seve van Ass, Australia's Edward Ockenden, 2016 Olympic Gold medalists from Argentina Agustin Mazilli and Gonzalo Peillat.
"I feel our team has the best mix of experienced Indian and foreign players who have had a very good run in the 2016 Rio Olympics and I am confident they will be carrying the same form into the Coal India HIL. We will be getting together as a team in a week's time at our home ground in Lucknow and we are looking forward to getting over the first hurdle of making it to the Semi Finals," stated the 28-year-old defender.
Raghunath further insisted that this year's HIL will be significant for his counterparts from the senior men's team who must work much harder to save their spot in the Indian camp to begin in March. "With a great show by the junior men's team at the Junior World Cup, many of them will be pushing for a spot in the senior camp.
"Hence, I feel it's important for the senior players to come up with significant and consistent performance to ensure they stay in the national team. But it's also a good thing for Indian hockey that we have a good pool of players now who have it in them to play big ticket matches at the international level," says Raghunath, who has over 200 international caps in the senior men's team making him one of the most experienced players in the squad.
Raghunath also feels that it is important for the players to get off to a good start this season and making use of the HIL as a platform to ace their game in an all-important calendar year for hockey.
"I think after the Rio Olympics, 2017 Men's Asia Cup and the World League Semi-final and Final will be the major tournaments we will be playing this year so I think it is really important to get off to a good start and be in the core group of the national program until next Men's World Cup in 2018," he says.
We must look at gaining as much experience from playing with the best in the Coal India HIL as this is the best platform to understand the foreign players' strength and weaknesses which will help us plan better when we play against them in major international tournaments this year," he says.
UP Wizards will begin their campaign on 24 January against Dabang Mumbai. (ANI)