India displayed spectacular hockey, weaving magical moves inside the Malaysian striking circle to knock the hosts over 6-1 and enter the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. The Indians, now riding on a wave, meet the World Champions Australia on Saturday in a highly-anticipated summit clash. For Sardar Singh’s team, it was also a sweet revenge for the 2-3 loss at the same ground to Malaysia in 2015.
Within the first seven minutes, India led 2-0 through Thimmaiah Chandanda and Harjeet Singh. Malaysia was reeling under the speed of the Indian attacks. Ramandeep Singh and Danish Mujtaba added a couple to make it 4-0 at the break. The host now needed a miracle but although India killed the pace in the 3rd quarter yet had Ramandeep get his second of the match and India’s 5th in the 39th minute. Malaysia pulled one back but the clock was against them. In the 50th minute, Talwinder scored the 6th to round off the tally.
Historically, Malaysia is a tough side to crack especially when playing a crunch game. India needed a win and the way Roelant Oltman’s team started, spreading the flanks, rattled the Malaysian defence. Initially, the hosts pulled back the midfield but that gave space to the speedy Indians and they were swarming all over the Malaysians. It was a SV Sunil move that initiated the attack and then his pass was subtly deflected into goal by Thimmaiah in the 3rd minute. The Malaysian fans had barely unfurled their national flags.
Four minutes later, a wonderful move was created by Harjeet Singh, racing through the middle, passing to Talwinder and then receiving the pass as he overlapped into the Malaysian striking circle. Harjeet’s clinical reverse hit beat the Malaysian goalkeeper as India led 2-0. The Ipoh stadium, normally a noisy cauldron, had been silenced. India had three more chances but if Malaysia walked off only 0-2 down in the first quarter, they have to thank their goalkeeper Rahman Hairi who saved off Sunil and Danish in quick succession. Off India’s first penalty corner, the post helped Malaysia in keeping the score under check.
Malaysia started the 2nd quarter with a flourish winning their first penalty corner. It was a clean flick and Rupinder Pal Singh saved on the line but replays showed that the ball may have hit his foot. A Sunil move outside the Malaysian striking circle was stick-checked by their captain Rahim Razie who got a yellow card and Malaysia were down to ten men. Harjeet, till then playing defensive, started moving up with the ball on the line and the hosts grouped up on the half line mark. India’s second penalty corner was also saved by Rahman Hairi.
India’s third goal came after a Rupinder Pal Singh error while taking a penalty corner; but Danish quick on the ball, passed to Uthappa who pushed towards goal. Ramandeep Singh, for a change was in the right position and he tapped in for his first goal of the tournament. The fourth goal also came off a penalty corner. Harmanpreet Singh’s flick was powerful to beat the entire defence but hit the cross bar and shot back into play. An alert Danish hammered it into the goal as India led 4-0.
Malaysia already looked beaten. India had taken the game by the throat and suffocated their moves on the flanks. Forced to move in the middle, they met the wall of Sardar and Manpreet. Seven times, in the match, Sardar snatched the ball away from the Malaysians before they could enter the Indian striking circle. At the end of the 2nd quarter, India had eleven shots at goal while Malaysia had just one.
It was apparent that in the 3rd quarter, India would kill the pace, rotate the ball and wait for the errors in the midfield. Harjeet again played a pivotal role. The youngster, all of 20, showed a maturity that must mark him out as a player who can now only improve. Harjeet’s impeccable control and his loose-limbed style of hockey reminded one of the 60’s and 70’s when ball play and control were the hall-marks of great players. It was the dominance at the half line that created India’s 5th goal in the 39th minute. Sardar Singh picked up a stray ball and pushed to an overlapping Harmanpreet whose pass into the Malaysian striking circle was surprisingly not cleared by the defenders. Ramandeep Singh, standing right next to the Malaysian goalkeeper, tapped the ball in.
Malaysia had a mountain to climb. It was an impossible task. Yet in the 46th minute, they gave their fans something to cheer about by pulling a goal back. Rahim Razie shot the ball into the Indian striking circle and Shahril Saabah deflected in brilliantly.
Four minutes later, as the Malaysians faded; opening up more gaps in their striking circle, Manpreet gave it to Mandeep as the ball deflected off his stick. Talwinder, somehow, controlled it and from an acute angle shot it in for India’s 6th goal. With a possession of 55 percent, India had 16 shots at goal while Malaysia had a measly two.
India has brought a relatively younger team with players like Harjeet, Harmanpreet, Akash Chikte, Surender Kumar, Talwinder Singh and Jasjit Kular. After such a resounding win, there is a tendency to imagine all the possibilities they could create. However, against World Champions Australia, if they could unshackle themselves and play focusing on flair and possession, the Aussies might be in for a surprise.