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Ipoh: India pulled off a sensational 4-3 victory over World Champion Australia on Monday.
This was the team's third win in a row after the embarrassing draw in the opening game against China in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here.
India's last victory against Australia was recorded in 2003 in a four-nation tournament in Sydney.
Coming as the win did consequent to the team stunning Asian champion Korea on Sunday, India, the defending champion, surged to the top of the table with 10 points and earned the tag of favourite for the cup again.
Even granting that the Aussies have fielded a fairly inexperienced team, the Indian display on this day earned spontaneous approbation of one and all.
That the team led 3-0 at half-time illustrates the domination of the players who successfully clipped the sting from the Aussie moves.
The Indians had a firm grip right from the start. Exemplary work in the mid-field headed by Arjun Halappa ensured the Aussies never took control of the exchanges.
While Halappa's class and competence as play-maker needs no reiteration here, the display by Bharat Chikkara, Vikas Pillay and the indomitable Gurbaj Singh in the frontline was superb.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the forwards were flawless. No less than three chances were frittered away by Sarwanjit Singh after moving into the right position in the circle.
However, Shivendra Singh's opportinism, Tushar Khandekar's ingenuity — he was fittingly declared Man-of-the-Match — and Rajpal Singh's sparkle had the Aussie defenders in a quandary.
Every goal that India scored reflected the vibrancy of the attack. The first emerged midway through after Sarwanjit Singh flunked an easy cross from Chikkara. A fluent cross by Gurbaj split the defensive wall. Shivendra connected but could not score. As the ball rolled Tushar completed the job.
Not long after came the second, a blinder of a shot from Rajpal Singh off a forward pass by Mujtaba left goalkeeper George Bazeley nonplussed.
Goal three was also a beauty. Mandeep Antil triggered a quick sally down the line on the right. Shivendra waited for the cross but could not properly connect. Mujtaba made a feeble attempt but eventually Tushar slotted in ending the agony.
Down and outplayed at 0-3 by half-time, the Aussies were desperate. But in a span of five minutes after resumption, they had a measure of the Indian defenders. Trent Milton surged in to score.
Denied of a single penalty corner in the first half, the Aussies tucked in the first one they earned when a smashing shot by Christopher Cirello seared into the boards leaving goalkeeper Sreejesh a mere spectator. The Aussies pressed hard till the Indian defenders adjusted to the challenge of the Aussie attack.
Slowly, India regained control in the mid-field. Nine minutes before the end, India increased the margin with a peach of a goal by Shivendra who worked for it. He danced down the line in a solo move, crossed the ball to Rajpal Singh, who got it back to hit the target.
Not the ones to take defeat lying down, the Aussies threw everything they had into the match and reduced the leeway 30 seconds before the whistle. Mark Paterson was the scorer.
India takes on Malaysia next on Wednesday.
Korea suffered a few humiliating moments before picking up full points against China, while Malaysia picked up full points with ease.
Tuesday is a rest day.
Korea 5 (Cho Suk Hoon, Nam Hyun Woo, You Hyo Sik, Yoon Seung, Lee Seung) bt China 3 (Sun Lung, Yu Young, Na Yubo).
India 4 (Tushar Khandekar 2, Rajpal Singh, Shivendra Singh) bt Australia 3 (Trend Milton, Christopher Cirello, Mark Paterson).
Malaysia 5 (Aslan Misron 2, Muhammad Hamid Amin, Faisal Saari, Tajuddin) bt Egypt 0.
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