FIH Pro League 2020: India's rearguard marks a pleasant departure from norm as clock ticks for Tokyo Olympics

  • Trailing 1-3, the host sprang back to life once skipper Manpreet Singh returned from his yellow card suspension.

  • In the shoot-out, India scored through Vivek Prasad, Gurjant Singh and Akashdeep while the Dutch could only slot in one, off Mirco Pruijser.

  • These are early days, but winning a double header against the Dutch would help India in figuring out what all is required to keep the momentum going.

The Dutch led 3-1 in the second quarter. Silence engulfed The Kalinga when Manpreet Singh was shown the yellow card in the third quarter; it meant India were down to ten men and fighting to not concede another goal. The defence dug in as Holland rotated, ran circles but couldn’t penetrate a defence marshalled by Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra, Surender Kumar and Chinglensana. In fact, the entire team had fallen back. The idea was to see off the period. And when Sreejesh saved Mink van der Weerden’s PC flick, Netherland’s third PC, India had taken the match to the fourth quarter. There was life still remaining in Graham Reid’s men.

Former Indian coach Terry Walsh has often spoken about four different matches being played in the four quarters: plots and sub-plots. And that is exactly what happened, when all the Dutch wanted was to keep the ball away from the Indians. The pace had been killed. India were desperately looking for the ball. The Dutch, in the third quarter, had 55 percent possession with almost 73 percent pass accuracy, enough to keep the Indians at bay.

But, once Manpreet Singh was back after his yellow card suspension, the hosts sprang back. A few forays down the left flank as Surender Kumar pushed hard meant India earned their third PC. Harmanpreet Singh’s flick was taken on the pads by the Dutch goalkeeper. The rebound fell to a lurking Mandeep Singh, who pounced and shot it in. India had cut the scores to 2-3. The fans roared. The Dutch fell back. India exploited the space.

 FIH Pro League 2020: Indias rearguard marks a pleasant departure from norm as clock ticks for Tokyo Olympics

The Dutch led 3-1 in the second quarter but India came back strongly to take the game to shoot-out, and win it. Image: Twitter/ @sports_odisha

With five minutes to go, India had their fourth PC. Rupinder Pal Singh, bending low, head synchronised beautifully with the flow of the shoulder and midriff, flicked in powerfully. The crowd’s roar welcomed India’s equaliser. At 3-3, India were looking to figure out a way to snatch a winner. Krishan Pathak, who had a terrible second quarter, saved Holland’s fourth PC, snuffing out a grounder. India, from a position of defeat, had taken the match to a shoot-out.

In the shoot-out, India scored through Vivek Prasad, Gurjant Singh and Akashdeep while the Dutch could only slot in one, off Mirco Pruijser. Jeroen Hertzberger, Glenn Schuurman and Thierry Brinkman, all missed with Indian goalkeeper P Sreejesh bringing off some fine saves. India won the shootout 3-1. India now have five points from a possible six with two wins against the Dutch in the double header.

It has been a brilliant debut from the Indians in the Pro League. But none of this would have been necessary if India had scored off the chances they had in the first quarter. In fact, if those goals had gone in, it could have been a rout. It’s an area India would need to have a look at — one-on-one situations with the opposition goalkeeper. Lalit Upadhyay twice had the moment while Akashdeep once. But, a lack of clarity of either looking for a tap or being in the wrong position helped the Dutch escape.

In the first quarter, India had seven shots on goal to Holland’s two: A classic example of domination but not getting the right results. At the Pro League level or at the Olympics, such quarters could be the difference between losing and winning.

In the second quarter, Bjorn Kellerman created some fantastic play in the 22nd minute leading to Holland’s first PC. Mink Weerden flicked it high into the net as Pathak flayed at it. The goal had come against the run of play. That was followed by some really sloppy defending. To say that the Indians went to sleep in the 25th to 27th minute wouldn’t be an understatement.

India had the equaliser in the 25th minute off a Lalit goal. But two snap goals followed as Holland scored off Jeroen Hertzberger and then a lovely move from Hertzberger had Kellerman deflecting in superbly as Pathak couldn’t judge the move. In one single quarter, four goals had been scored. There was a perceptible loss of focus and intensity in the dying minutes of the 2nd quarter, that allowed the Dutch to not only take the lead but also put India under pressure.

After the match, Graham Reid, the Indian coach said, “The good thing was that we attacked. Yes, there were mistakes in the second quarter and even when we were down, we went for it. And got the goals.”

Speaking about the struggle in the second and third quarters, Reid said, “What was good today was that we struggled to get better and win. We have to struggle and that’s how you learn. It was good to come back in the 2nd half.”

Rupinder Pal Singh, who has had two good games both in the defence and as a flicker, also said that the team did try and control the situation after being 1-3 down. “Yes, the defence did some mistakes,” Rupinder conceded. On both the wins, Rupinder said, “I think it is good because it is an Olympic year and we are working hard. It's good for our confidence, also.”

Speaking on the comeback in the fourth quarter, Rupinder said, “We knew we would get the chances. Probably, a few years back, goals down we would have buckled. But that has changed, and we have learnt to overcome the mistakes.”

Dutch coach Max Caldas, though happy with his team’s performance, as these are early days felt the team didn’t do enough when India had been shown the yellow card. “We should have taken the game there.”

Netherlands captain Billy Bakker said: "Like I said yesterday, we played one quarter pretty well, but that was not enough. I think today was a way better performance than yesterday, but unfortunately, we didn't control the last quarter.”

These are early days, but winning a double header against the Dutch would help India in figuring out what all is required to keep the momentum going. Yes, this is an Olympic year with more than six months to go for Tokyo. However, such wins, especially after being 1-3 down, help build an appetite for bigger victories. Winning is always the best adrenaline fix. As the days roll by, pressure will increase. For a team hunting victory, pressure, however, will always be a privilege.

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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2020 10:56:13 IST