Smith amped for Indian Hockey League

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For the South African hockey captain Austin Smith the Indian Hockey League (HIL) is just the start of a very busy and extremely important 2014 that includes the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.

Smith will once again represent the Ranchi Rhinos in the HIL that is based on the same principle as the Indian Premier League for cricket. There are six teams in the HIL – Ranchi Rhinos, Jaypee Punjab Warriors, Kalinga Lancers, Uttar Pradesh Wizards, Dabur Mumbai Magicians and the Delhi Waveriders.

The Ranchi Rhinos are the defending champions and Smith is excited with the prospect of defending the title successfully even though it will be difficult the second time around. “I think it adds some extra pressure. If you look at how many times teams or individuals have defended a title successfully you will see it isn't all that often. I like the challenge of proving we are the best once more.”

Smith’s team has been forced to make some changes due to injuries, but they also gained some good players. “We are sadly still unable to select any Pakistani players due to the conflict between the two countries. Last year we bought Bosco Perez from Spain who will remain with us again this year. We then won the English captain Barry Middleton in a closed auction in November. In the past few days we have had Australian Fergus Kavanagh and Nick Wilson from New Zealand withdraw due to injury. Their replacements are not yet known.”

Justin Reid-Ross will also once again play for the Ranchi Rhinos while former national coach Gregg Clark will be the coach again as well.

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Other South Africans in the HIL are Lloyd Norris-Jones and Tim Drummond. They will play for the Delhi Waveriders.

Smith wants to use this opportunity to show the rest of the world what South African players are capable of. “My primary goal is to play an outstanding tournament and play well for the Ranchi Rhinos. I feel a great sense of pride representing South Africa in this competition so of course I want people watching to enjoy it and see that South Africans can perform just as well as any other top internationals.”

After the HIL, Smith still has the Champions Challenge and World Cup to come before June and then in the second half of the season it is time for the Commonwealth Games. “This season is hugely busy year, especially the first half with the Hockey India league, Hoofdklasse, World Cup preparation, Champions Challenge and then the World Cup all before the end of June. I would love play well in this tournament and get back into the flow as soon as possible. I've had one of my longest breaks away from outdoor hockey since I was a teenager so I hope that rest and recovery shows in my performances.”

The HIL starts on 25 January. The Ranchi Rhinos will start their campaign on Sunday 26 January against the Uttar Pradesh Wizards.

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