Young India shines bright

The first set of 10 defenders who went under the hammer at the inaugural Hockey India League auction here on Sunday included two of India's young drag-flickers VR Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh. The outcome of the bidding of this lot was to prove a microcosm of the kind of players teams would spend their money on.

At 24, Raghunath is the vice-captain of the national team, while Rupinder Pal Singh, two years younger, is making rapid strides as a drag-flicker.

Both were members of the Indian team, currently in a rebuilding phase, that finished a creditable fourth at the Champions Trophy in Melbourne. They are also two of the three full-backs included in the team for the Asian Champions Trophy that begins this week in Doha. Raghunath and Rupinder have age on their side and are the in-form players. It was little surprise then that both were bought following a bidding bloodbath between the five teams.

The 'sold at' price of these two drag-flickers, considered key to India's immediate future plans were over $50,000 each —Rupinder to Punjab Warriors at $56,000, while Raghunath is to be paid $76,000 by the Uttar Pradesh Wizards.

Compare these amounts with what proven match-winners Jamie Dwyer ($78,200), Moritz Fuertse ($83,950), Teun De Nooijer ($87,400) and Sardar Singh ($78,000) — all marquee players — received and it becomes clear that team owners were ready to repose faith in the abilities of India's next generation of hockey stars.

The youth-policy continued to prevail when Nithin Thimmaiah, 24, and Shivendra Singh, 29, were bought for $27,500 each when the first lot of forwards were put up for auction. Thimmaiah was picked for the Champions Trophy after impressing the selectors during the senior nationals held at Bangalore. His base price was $5,600 while bidding for Shivendra, currently out of favour, began at $18,550.

With Danish Mujtaba, the 22-year-old forward bagging $66,000 following a bid from Delhi Wave Riders and Gurvinder Singh Chandi going for $50,000, almost all of those picked for the Asian Champions Trophy to be held later this week attracted more than double their base price.

Silver lining

Nineteen-year-old Amit Rohidas, a defender-cum-drag-flicker largely on the fringes of the senior national side, was pursued by both Punjab Warriors and Ranchi Rhinos till the former blinked at $29,000. Rohidas' teammate in the squad that won silver at the Sultan Johor Cup last month Gangandeep Singh received a winning bid of $23,000 from the Mumbai Magicians.

Baljit Singh Saini, a coach with the Ranchi team, wanted Rohidas in the team at any cost as he was impressed by the youngsters skill at the junior level. "There are very few drag-flickers who are good defenders and vice-versa but Rohidas is a rare player who is good at both," Saini, the junior national coach, said.

However, India's captain at the Olympics, goalkeeper Bharat Chhetri, 30, went unsold and was transferred into the reserve pool list before he was picked by Punjab Warriors for just a little over his base price.

"I cannot comment on why Chhetri went unsold initially. It is up to the teams to pick the players they want," HIL chairman Narendra Batra said.

Another London Olympian Sandeep Singh initially received only his base price of $27,800 when Mumbai initially chose him as a marquee player.

The out-of-favour Sandeep will however get paid $64,400 as he has to receive 15 per cent over the highest player his team bids for in the auction — a privilege of a marquee player.

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