India chucked flamboyance and flair for determination. And in that resurgence, they chose SV Sunil as its leader. Time and again, like the man who would come and save humanity, the reed thin Sunil, who runs as if he has a typhoon swirling around his legs, saved Indian hockey from self-destruction by scoring the match-winner in a frenzied 4-3 win against Wales at the Commonwealth Games. India needed a win and they led twice against the Welsh, ranked 24th, and thrice they let Wales come back into the match. In the 58th minute, when Gareth Furlong scored his hat-trick and equalised scores at 3-3, it seemed India would trudge back to the village with a point and yet again an immense amount of introspection to be done.
But a minute later, a desperate India had their 10th penalty corner. Harmanpreet who had scored the third goal saw his flick speed onto the Welsh goalkeeper’s pads. Sunil, who had injected the PC ball, reached the goalkeeper by the time the ball rebounded, picked it and shot. He still had time to pick up the second rebound and slam it into goal. Mandeep Singh who was standing in front of the goal from the moment the ball slammed into the goalkeeper’s pads couldn’t react fast enough but Sunil running in from 10 metres away, scored a goal. Call that determination, resolve, doggedness or plain and simple tenacity, Sunil was the main man on the pitch.
Along with the goals, he also assisted twice, helping Dilpreet Singh score his 2nd goal of the tournament and created another penalty corner. One of his better passes, from the right flank, which he kind of owned on Sunday, was deflected past the post by Mandeep. It was that kind of day that Sunil, if given an option to flick, might have scored off a penalty corner too. India had 10 PC’s and scored off three; an abysmal record.
The scorers for India were Dilpreet Singh (16th), Mandeep Singh (28th), Harmanpreet Singh (57th) and SV Sunil 59th). For Wales, Gareth Furlong would long remember this match that a hat-trick of world class penalty corner flicking couldn’t salvage a draw for the Welsh. Yet, Wales showed how potent penalty corners can be; a question for the Indian coaching staff that has Australian Chris Ciriello, the man who scored a hat-trick in the 2014 Commonwealth Games final against India and a hat-trick in the 2014 World Cup final against The Netherlands.
India was dogged, resolute and bull-headed. Early in the 1st quarter, the Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne would have realised that Wales wasn’t giving a quarter on the pitch. They played man-to-man and came up early to take the ball. Wales also managed to create lateral movement and worked their way up through the midfield, creating moments of panic for India. By the middle of the 2nd quarter, India was defending and moving up when the midfield could afford to leave defensive positions. It is also alarming that a team reputed to have young legs isn’t willing to push the envelope when it comes to playing with pace and skill. Maybe, the draw against Pakistan had left them a little stunned. But, still the strategy of playing structured hockey and patiently building moves from the back paid off. Worrying also is the fact that a 24th ranked team can almost derail India’s campaign. Inside of two days, both Pakistan and Wales, ranked much below have given us a lesson in defensive and tactical hockey. The coaching team may not agree but for a team ranked 6th and self-professed ‘hungry’ to get onto the pitch is yet to settle down against lower ranked opponents.
But when Sunil sprinted down the right flank and struck a high ball into the Welsh striking circle, Dilpreet smashing it away into goal like a tennis volley, the nature of the goal promised more. Such goals break the opposition and lift the team that scores. The opposite happened. Wales went on the offensive, working their way down the left flank and earning their 1st PC. Furlong’s goal came off the 2nd PC. Wales had tied 1-1. Rupert Shipperley meanwhile was creating problems around the Indian midfield. After the initial burst of Manpreet Singh, it was difficult to see the Indian captain creating. Wales had the audacity to create pressure and maintain it. India got the lead and a 2-1 score when Rupinder Pal Singh’s flick rebounded off the keeper’s pads. Manpreet smacked it back onto the pads before Mandeep Singh wrestling his way past the defenders, somehow, managed to scoop the ball from below the pads and into goal. India led 2-1.
Two penalty corners were well defended by Wales. Sunil had a lovely sprint and shot deflected away by Mandeep. In the 45th minute, Furlong got his 2nd goal when a flick deflected off Amit Rohidas feet and into goal. At 2-2 with three quarters gone, the Indian team bench wore a quiet look.
The 4th quarter saw a flurry of PCs from India. Three were either defended or flew over the cross bar. But on the 8th PC, Harmanpreet’s flick was powerful, angular and low. India led 3-2 and the bench celebrated. Wales didn’t relent. They pushed up and within a minute earned their 4th PC. Furlong brought up his hat-trick with a punishing flick. At 3-3, Indian shoulders drooped. The familiar devils danced around the Indian bench. Furlong believed his hat-trick had given Wales a point and him legendary status.
India still pushed on. From somewhere they summoned reserves of energy, their minds probably not comprehending the 3-3 score-line against Wales. India’s 9th PC won after a struggle in the Wales striking circle led to a 10th. It was the last chance to take three points. Harmanpreet unleashed a low flick and Sunil like the ‘unwanted pop-up on a Welsh mobile screen’ appeared out of nowhere to scramble in the goal as India relaxed, heaved a sigh of relief and counted their stars.
Despite the doggedness of India’s play, they still managed 22 circle penetrations. Wales had eight. In terms of percentage and impact on the match from the chances they got, Wales was much ahead. Wales had four penalty corners and they scored three. Out of India’s ten PCs, they scored three with only one direct flick, the other two rebounds.
Four points in the bag with games against Malaysia and England to come. One more victory could seal a semi-final berth but India needs to de-clutter the mind first. In both the matches, they haven’t played a high pressing style, or at least consistently press opponents. But the silver lining is teams with self-doubt don’t fight back efficiently and snatch a win from a match that looked like a dead draw. But the transition days are over. Time for India to show a classy turn and not get rattled and spooked so easily.
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Updated Date: Apr 09, 2018 00:13:16 IST