New Delhi: At this year’s Coal India Hockey India League, the Ranchi Rays will be vying to bag their third title after having won the inaugural edition in 2013 and 2015. While they have a formidable mix of experienced Indian, English, German and Australian players in the team, they will be heavily dependent on Birendra Lakra who will lead their defence with Kothajit Singh, Aussies Fergus Kavanagh and Timothy Deavin. “I am ready for the challenge. This year’s Coal India HIL will be a new beginning for me and I really want to make this opportunity count," insisted Lakra.
"Gaining match practice against so many top players going into an important calendar year for Indian team is crucial for me,” said the defender who missed out on the Rio Olympics due to injury and was out of action for over six months in 2016.
Lakra made a strong comeback into the Indian fold at the Asian Champions Trophy where he won many hearts. “The results at the Asian Champions Trophy and the Tour of Australia was a great confidence booster for me. After a long lay-off due to injury, it takes a while to gain back the confidence of playing high intensity matches. At the back of your head, you are thinking I shouldn’t get injured again. But my teammates, physio and Coaches gave me a lot of confidence and motivated me throughout this difficult phase. Hockey India too made me feel important by ensuring I got the best treatment," he stated.
"I have worked a lot ahead of this year’s Coal India HIL. I am confident of putting up a good show to stay in contention for the Indian camp in March,” expressed Lakra.
The Ranchi Rays team arrived in Mumbai on January 15 and since have been training at the Mahindra Hockey Stadium where they play their first match against Dabang Mumbai on the opening day of the Coal India HIL on 21 January. Lakra feels this year their team has great potential in lifting the trophy for the third time. “We have a strong line-up and many of us in the team have played together for a while so we understand each other’s game well. Having junior Indian team players (Vikramjit Singh and Simranjeet Singh) who are carrying the confidence from their Junior World Cup win will also make a difference to our team. Thus far, the training camp has been going well and the team is enjoying this time of coming together. It will be special if we can repeat our 2013 and 2015 performance,” said Lakra.