Battling a myriad of issues from Friday’s 2-3 loss to Australia — from consistency to wayward finishing and a lack of structure in key moments of the game, India came up with answers, if not all, but enough to take the battle to reigning Pro League Champions Australia who battled back from a 1-2 deficit to draw the match in regulation time. In the shoot-out, India made it look easy, as they sashayed past a bumbling Australian side to win 3-1.
Technically, according to Pro League rules, the outcome remains a draw; the shoot-out win gives India a bonus point. However, the result leaves the two teams locked together on ten points, with third-placed Australia ahead of fourth-placed India in the standings by virtue of a superior goal difference.
India made four changes bringing in Jarmanpreet Singh, Nilakanta Sharma, Chinglensana Singh and Ramandeep Singh. It was clear that by inducting Nilakanta and Chinglensana, Indian coach Graham Reid was shoring up the midfield which in the first game of the double-header tended to break-up, leaving gaping holes which Australia had easily exploited with four field goals.
Before the 2nd game, Reid said India needed a better start and also had to come out and finish the job. The Indian coach would have been happy with the second part of his wish list. It was, however, Australia that sprang off the starting blocks with a penalty corner in the first 30 seconds of the game. Two penalty corners followed a little later when Rupinder Pal Singh’s aerial shot was picked off by an Australian midfielder and the resultant PCs were saved by Sreejesh. Australia scored off the third but Sreejesh went for a referral asking for an obstruction which was given by the video umpire. India then went onto lose their referral when the 4th PC was awarded to Australia. Sreejesh brought off another save. But India now had to play three quarters without the advantage of a referral.
With India’s energy levels better than Friday’s match, they had their first clear look at the Aussie goal in the 2nd Quarter. Amit Rohidas had moved up into the Aussie half and his cross zipped into the striking circle where Jarmanpreet with an open goal in front, saw his hurried swipe go over and wide.
For Australia, Aran Zalewski was as smooth as skill. He again held the midfield, received the ball well and distributed it to almost every corner of the turf. Zalewski, yet again proved what a good midfielder brings to modern hockey — vision and a sense of balance that keeps the defenders and forwards functioning sleekly and fluently. After misfiring on their 5th PC, Australia had the lead in the 23rd minute when Krishan Pathak lost his sense of focus.
It was a huge blooper and for a goalkeeper looking to fill in the 2nd slot for the Tokyo Olympics, question marks would surely be raised. Nathan Ephraums had sent a through ball to Trent Mitton. Confronted with three defenders on the left side, Mitton didn’t have any choice but to hit towards Pathak in goal, hoping for a rebound. To his utter joy, he saw the ball squeeze itself between the post and Pathak’s left pad — the space was just about enough for a hockey ball. It was a terrible error and in a knock-out game, the difference between victory and defeat. Later, Australia blew up their 6th PC.
India rebounded strongly, pressing hard and in one of the sorties between Vivek Prasad and Simranjeet, India earned their 1st PC in the 25th minute. Rupinder Pal’s low flick, almost skimming the turf went through Aussie goalkeeper Lovell Tyler’s pads. India had the equaliser 1-1.
Two minutes later, India had the lead. Vivek, once again, in the thick of things, this time in tandem with Hardik Singh got India their second PC. Harmanpreet’s flick hit a defender’s leg and off the 3rd PC, Harmanpreet flicked home. India had the lead for the first time in two matches. All the three goals had come in the 2nd quarter. India scored from two out of three PCs while Australia had none out of six.
Australia stung by India taking the lead came hard in the 3rd quarter but failed off the seventh and eight PC. Finally, they had a stroke. Tim Brand waited for Sreejesh to commit to his right. But the ball sent to the left, hit the post and went out. Nothing was working for Australia. The Indian defending on the PCs was good but Australia’s innovation and ‘selling a dummy’ to the defender was amateurish.
Buoyed by the lead, India were pressing in the midfield. The defenders were running on the lines, sending balls to the flanks. The holding off the ball was much better. The structures at the back, centre and front were tight. Hardik was having a good game and one of his passes found Ramandeep who with a good angle, look on the goal, blew it over. At the end of Q3, India led 2-1. The fans settled in for a frenetic Q4.
The equaliser came within 32 seconds of the 4th quarter. It was a Jake Whetton pass, weighted and on target. Zalewski, unmarked in the circle only had to deflect it past Pathak, who had come out for the 4th quarter. The ball hit Pathak’s glove and went in. It was a one-touch goal. But the Indian defence could have done better by converging on Zalewski, rather than giving him the space.
With an entire quarter remaining, India killed the pace of the game and held possession. They rotated the ball, keeping it away from the Aussies. Without the ball, Australia quickly became frustrated. It showed as their well-drilled movements on the field fell apart. Vivek, Nilakanta and Hardik now swept in playing some good midfield hockey. With three minutes left, Vivek overlapping into the striking circle missed with a reverse hit. A Ramandeep through found Nilakanta whose hard-reverse shot was saved by Tyler. India were trying to close the match out in regulation time.
With eleven seconds to go, Australia got their 9th PC. The Kalinga went quiet. Matt Dawson took a swipe and the ball deflected off the stick off Rohidas. The Aussies appealed for a retake arguing that the ball had been raised dangerously. The video umpire ruled it out as the match went into the shoot-out.
India brought in Sreejesh while Australia stayed with Lovell Tyler. Australia had first strike and Daniel Beale was fouled by Sreejesh and the resultant referral gave Australia a stroke which was converted by Matt Dawson. Australia led 1-0. Harmanpreet Singh made it look ridiculously easy as he tapped past Tyler to tie it at 1-1. Brand was next and Sreejesh inadvertently held him from the waist giving away a second stroke which Beale sent wide. Vivek, swayed left and right before sending the ball into goal as India led 2-1. Nathan was up next. But Sreejesh picked out the ball tapping it away. Lalit Upadhyay made it 3-1, converting easily. And when Jake Harvie, deprived twice, sent the ball over the line, the hooter had already gone. Time was up on Harvie and the Australian team.
India scored on many aspects. But the big one was temperament. Even before the match, the key was to select a line-up that would attack and probe the weaknesses in the Australian side. Reid did that well by picking a strong midfield. Zalewski was neutralised when Hardik, Vivek, Nilakanta and Chinglensana managed the centre. Manpreet, more of a roving player, could then move around and overlap.
Former Indian captain (1994 World Cup) and midfielder Jude Felix explained it down to one word — “Energy.” “They had the energy today,” Jude said. “All of them were chasing. For me it was an awesome performance.”
Though critical of the goals that were conceded by the Indians, Jude said it would do a world of good for any goalkeeper to see the former Great Britain goalkeeper Ian Taylor’s videos. “Goalkeeper’s saves are not because of what you train on the pitch,” explained Jude. “It is always the anticipation and what the opponent must be thinking is what makes you bring off great saves. All Pathak had to do was hold the post. It’s a clear lack of focus.”
Praising the midfielders, Jude said they were good because "they received and passed." The former Indian captain did feel that at times India was caught at the back with "less numbers (players). But that’s because you are ball watching,” Jude said. “The moment you stop moving, filling in the gaps, in a split second, it’s over. That’s how the second goal was scored by Australia. We stalled and they scored.”
India now play on 25th April against Germany in Berlin, the first of their away Pro League games. It’s also the start of the leg where Graham Reid has to find his men for Tokyo; the players who eventually will play the role.
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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2020 08:21:33 IST