It’s come to this: Trained and battle ready to take on the Commonwealth nations with Australia the ‘only opponent’; India didn’t even get to play the Aussies: but they ended up 4th, sliding from the silver in the last two editions to an embarrassment of defeats at Gold Coast. It does sound highly critical but sport rarely walks the middle path and the bronze medal match with England was again an exercise in swift running but no control. India, a team with ball players, fast legs, and improved anticipation did everything but bring play under their control and score goals. England, fast learners from the last 3-4 defeat to India won the medal tie knowing India without the ball are half the side they are with it. The 2-1 score-line gave England the bronze while condemning India to answer some stiff questions. In the match, they had none to the ones Sam Ward asked of them.
In a perfect world, India should have been a goal up in the first couple of minutes. But Mandeep Singh’s shot was saved by Harry Gibson. Mandeep seems to be treading a thin line. He appears busy and at times his charge towards the goalkeeper gives you the impression that positioning shouldn’t be an issue. But quite rarely does he put himself into the perfect spot and in time. Yes, he does score spectacular goals. But that’s going from one season to another imagining a drizzle to be a downpour.
England didn’t take much time to lock down the midfield, rotate and gain control. For a few minutes after that, India didn’t have the ball. The defence was over worked with Chinglensana, Kothajit, Harmanpreet, Varun and Amit Rohidas constantly back-pedalling, releasing and then rushing back. There were no legs left for counters or even to overlap.
Barry Middleton, all of 34 with 400 plus internationals to his credit, buzzed in a reverse hit that just missed the post. In the later quarters, Middleton was an example of what sport calls ‘experience.’ A few minutes later, a ball hit Kothajit and England had their 1st PC. The Indian defence dealt with it but couldn’t avoid a 2nd one. Ward was on target to give England a 1-0 lead; his 8th goal of the tournament; four field and four PCs.
India did build in the 2nd Quarter. The Indian captain Manpreet Singh, lone ranger in the midfield, built, relayed, defended and even crossed into the England striking circle to take a few shots. The other components of the midfield – Vivek, Chinglensana were missing. Ball rotations set up a few sharp chances. But the English defenders crouched low and brought their sticks down swiftly. Lalit Upadhyay had a good opportunity, slightly to the right, inside the striking circle but the shot was weak.
India had their 1st PC in the 26th minute. And they thought differently. Rohidas set it up and just when it looked like he was going for the flick, he back-flipped it to Varun Kumar who shot it into the yards of space created between the goalkeeper and defenders. At 1-1, the match was in India's grasps. Momentum had shifted to India who then decided to change the pattern and brought in Sunil on the left flank. Promptly, he sent a through pass to Manpreet right in the middle of the circle but the Indian captain’s push was saved by goalkeeper George Pinner.
At the start of the 3rd quarter, Lalit zipped in a cross but Mandeep couldn’t deflect it in. A minute later, Gurjant shot in from the right flank and both Mandeep and Lalit were late reaching the ball. England pushed on, breaking India in the midfield and earned their 4th PC. Sam Ward’s flick was saved by Sreejesh. On the counter, Akashdeep was deep inside the English circle but the shot screamed away on top of the cross-piece. England had their 5th PC in the 42nd minute. Rohidas sprinting away towards Ward got the ball flush on the stick but the deflection fell in front of Ward again and before any Indian defender could react, Ward had reverse hit it past Sreejesh.
At 2-1, the bronze appeared a dream even though there was a quarter left. England was on full press, two players pressing if any Indian had the ball. In the 3rd quarter, they snatched and created moves. In fact, Vivek had the ball and then two English players rushed him making him lose it. But he couldn’t fall back; he was simply beaten on speed. Vivek is 17 years old and playing his first big high-pressure tournament.
In the 4th quarter, Akashdeep and Mandeep couldn’t beat the goalkeeper George Pinner. In the 49th minute, Mandeep got a green card and with India down to ten players, England had their 6th PC, created by Barry Middleton. With Ward not on the pitch, England did two reverse taps and on the third, the flick was saved by Kothajit. Sreejesh saved a 7th PC in the 54th minute. Three minutes to go, India pulled off Sreejesh and played with eleven field players. England constantly defending almost gave away a stroke which the umpire had pointed for but English captain Pinner wanted a referral and the opportunity was gone. But even in the last minute, Mandeep and Akashdeep had the opening. Akashdeep couldn’t flick the ball over the fallen Pinner.
In terms of circle penetrations, India had 35 to England’s 22. In the PC’s, for a change, England had 7 to India’s one. And, England enjoyed a possession of 51 percent. But these numbers don’t say anything about England’s control and India’s cautious approach.
For the 2nd consecutive match, the feeling was of incompleteness, a certain kind of uncertainty. England had a different goalkeeper in every quarter; Harry Gibson and George Pinner interchanging. Except a few changes, India played the same pattern. Hopefully, the results at Gold Coast will not define India's season.
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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2018 20:20:12 IST