HE may not feature in Team India’s scheme of things and the selectors may virtually shut the doors on him, but Sandeep Singh always serves up a reminder of his abilities. At least from penalty corners. On Saturday, he was at it again.
The India discard scored twice from penalty corners to end defending champions Ranchi Rhinos dreams of winning back-to-back titles and guide Punjab Warriors to their maiden final. Warriors beat Rhinos 3-2 in a closely-contested semifinal in front of a packed crowd. Sandeep scored in the 24th and 52nd minute to take his tournament tally to 11. He was also the highest scorer last season. Jake Whetton scored the third goal for Punjab while Ashley Jackson and Floris Evers were on target for the home team.
This was Punjab’s 10th win on the trot this season. However, momentum alone won’t assure them of a win in Sunday’s final, where they will meet Delhi Waveriders.
If Sandeep was the star in Punjab’s close win, another player who is aiming to earn a permanent spot in the Indian team did the star turn for Delhi Waveriders against Uttar Pradesh Wizards in the first semifinals. Yuvraj Walmiki scored the winning goal for Delhi in their 1-0 victory over Uttar Pradesh. This will be Delhi’s second consecutive appearance in the final, having finished as runners-up to Ranchi last season.
Walmiki scored a field goal in the 15th minute in front a packed 6,000 capacity stadium to dash Uttar Pradesh Wizards’ title hopes. While the Waveriders had the better share of ball possession in the first half, the UP side dominated the proceedings in the second half.
The only difference between the two sides in the evenly-matched contest was that the Waveriders made use of an early chance, whereas the Wizards were guilty of wasting numerous goal-scoring opportunities that came their way.
Wizards skipper VR Raghunath had a bad day in office as he failed to convert any of the three penalty corners his side earned in the match. The Waveriders got the first real scoring opportunity in the 12th minute but wasted it as Rupinderpal Singh failed to capitalise on his side’s first penalty corner.
The Delhi outfit, however, took the lead soon through a field strike from Walimiki. An opportunist Walimiki found himself at the right place at the right time to deflect in from close range a Justin Reid-Ross’ pass.
Wizards got a chance to draw level in the second quarter when they earned their first penalty corner but skipper Raghunath’s flick went wide after getting a deflection from the sticks of an onrushing Rupinder.
The Uttar Pradesh side needed a goal in the second half to keep their hopes alive and expectedly went for the offensive from the start. Their efforts resulted in two penalty corners in the third quarter but as has been the story for the Wizards in the match, Raghunath wasted both the opportunities.
Wizards kept up the pressure but Rupinder was solid as a rock, perhaps playing his best game this season. He single-handedly kept them at bay. Waveriders, on the other hand, created a few chances on the counter-attack but their forward line failed to capitalise.