In the forty-third minute of the Gold Cup hockey final between India and Holland,Tushar Khandker got the ball on the run at the centre outside the Indian striking circle. Controlling and weaving his way to the left through three Dutch defenders,Khandker pushed the ball to Prabhjot Singh without a glance to the receiver,needing no confirmation that the pass was perfect.
A half-turn,and Prabhjot took off with two Dutch defenders in pursuit,measured the length of the field along the sideline and centred it to Shivendra Singh. He played a 1-2 and just before taking a shot at the open goal,Shivendra was pushed,earning India a penalty stroke and their first goal.
The whole action took less than 10 seconds. It was a rare hark back to the days when Indians played hockey by instinct,every pass perfect and every position accounted for on the field.
It was clearly Indias best performance throughout the tournament,even though the hosts ended up losing 2-1. Given the kind of opposition they were up against,the fact that India made it to the final was in itself an achievement. That the hosts matched their flamboyant Dutch opponents move for move and even tied them down is credit to coach Harendra Singh and his bunch of 18.
In the best match for the hosts in this tournament,they attacked,defended and controlled the midfield,and goalkeeper Baljit Singh once again came up with some impressive saves. For the attacking Dutch,going defensive is never an option. The fact that they were forced to do so is praiseworthy for an Indian team still shrugging off a years rust.
For the hosts,there was no standout player on the day,something Harendra considers a positive sign. They played as a team,as one unit,and I am satisfied with my boys performance. My target was to reach the final and we achieved it. It is better to move ahead one step at a time, he said after the match.
That the coach is pleased with his team was evident from the fact that,throughout the match and even after,there was no sign of tension on either his face or on any of the players. Not often in the past has an Indian hockey team lost a tournament leave alone a match and appeared relaxed. The pressure to perform was there,but not the pressure to prove themselves.
India played attacking hockey and created chances by the dozen. They could have taken the lead in the fifth minute itself,but Dutch goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann made sure they didnt. There were moves and counter-moves,but the first half remained barren.
Indias lead in the 43rd minute was nullified three minutes later when Robbert Kemperman deflected a free hit onto the board. India earned three quick penalty corners after that but failed to convert any,captain Sandeep Singh having an off day. The Dutch finally scored the winner in the 66th minute when Jeroen Hertzberger delayed his penalty corner shot by a split second and they slotted the ball in.
Though they finished runners-up,India can walk away with many positives from this match. The biggest gain has been the return of Arjun Halappa and Vikram Pillay. Together,the two have successfully sealed a lean Indian midfield. And the attack is showing signs of coming together under pressure,scoring more field goals than ever in a long time. There are areas of concern but I would not like to go into them, Harendra said.
The team now go to Australia and New Zealand for a test series,and after their performance here,the players can hope to walk tall Down Under.
Kiwis grab third place
New Zealand striker Joel Baker struck in the last minute of the match to help his team shock world champions Germany 3-2 in the third place play-off.
Both teams were locked 2-2 till the dying minutes of the match but Baker scored the winner to carve out a memorable win for his team. The Kiwis,ranked seven,had not won even a single match in the league stage and could not have asked for a better result. They played an attacking game and kept up the pressure on the German defence.
However it was Germany,who tested their young players in the tournament,who drew first blood,scoring from a penalty corner that came their way in the 17th minute,with Moritz Furste giving them the lead.
The Black Sticks found the equaliser in the 26th minute when Andren Haywards scored from a penalty corner,the second one which his team had earned. In the final minute of the first half,the Kiwis squandered an opportunity to take the lead,wasting a penalty corner.