HIL 2016: Punjab Warriors pull off an upset, beat defending champions Ranchi Rays

Saradar Singh of Punjab Warriors in yellow in action against Ranchi Rays
Saradar Singh of Punjab Warriors in yellow in action against Ranchi Rays

Helped by the early strike by Australian Jacob Whetton, the  Jaypee Punjab Warriors  scored a 2-0 victory over defending champions Ranchi Rays in their opening match of the Hockey India League (HIL) at Chandigarh . Though the Warriors scored a lone goal, but under  the newly introduced scoring system, a field goal is counted as two and the hosts did enough to defend their early strike to pocket — points from the encounter.

Whetton found the opposition net as early as in the second minute of the match to give the early lead to Punjab Warriors which they stoutly defended for the remaining 58 minutes of the match to stun the title holders. The Aussie slotted home a fine field goal from a counter-attack after he was brilliantly assisted by Punjab Warriors skipper and Indian national team skipper Sardar Singh, who switched base from Delhi Waveriders this season.

Ranchi,  co-owned by India cricket ODI and Twenty20 captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was caught off- guard in a sudden counter-attack when Sardar set it up for Whetton from the right with a brilliant pass and the Australian did enough to dodge past an onrushing Ranchi goalkeeper Tyler Lovell to shot home the goal.

After Whetton’s early strike, Ranchi got a golden opportunity to draw level in the 18th minute but skipper Ashley Jackson’s flick from a penalty corner was blocked by Punjab Warriors goalkeeper Tristian Clemons. Ranchi had another scoring chance after in the opening half but Jackson’s slap shot did not trouble Punjab Warriors custodian.

After half time , Punjab Warriors came out with more purpose and attacked Ranchi goal at ease and in the process earned three penalty corners but the chances went in vain. While Whetton’s try from the first penalty corner hit the right post, the effort from the second set piece went wide. Punjab Warriors had another scoring opportunity in the final quarter, but Christopher Ciriello’s effort did not yield result.

Ranchi came out all guns blazing in the final quarter but their forward line failed to get the final touch which could have earned them atleast a draw.

Whetton after the match thanked Sardar for the fine assist and also lauded his team’s backline to hold on to the lead. “It was good that Sardar provided the ball in time and I was there at the right place for the goal. Also, we put up a very good defensive performance as well, so it was a good win,” Whetton, was adjudged player-of-the-match said at the post-match presentation.