Wednesday, Sep 04, 2002
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By S. Thyagarajan
India 3 -- Australia 2
A victory at last for India and even as the fragrance of it floated across the Rot-Wess hockey stadium on a balmy afternoon in the Champions Trophy one was left wondering why a super power like Australia slithered down this valley of despair in a premier competition.
Even inexperience, as the coach Barry Dancer would acknowledge, was the factor but it was appalling performance in which the World Cup silver medallist frittered away as many as 16 penalty corners.
Not after the four-nation tournament in Perth in 2000 before the Olympics has India won against the Aussies.
Actually, the last encounter a fortnight ago at Amstelveen, ended in a 3-1 victory for the Australians, who recorded a 6-0 triumph in the four-nation tournament at Melbourne in June.
Statistics, however, have little relevance in this sport, but chroniclers are not tired of recording them to serve as a denominator.
The outcome this afternoon should definitely enhance the morale of the Indians after the two pretty performances against indefatigable Germans and the Dutch. Judged within the parameters of excellence, the Indians did not meet them in full measure. There were far too many errors in the defence as the 16 penalty corners conceded would testify.
These were largely on account of the inconsistent mid-field and a panicking deep defence. Perhaps, the credit for keeping the margin wide enough to garner three full points should go to the goal-keeper Devesh Chauhan who brought of a few intrepid saves.
Needless to say, it was a pulsating contest as all matches are involving India with any opponent. Till the final second there was action on the Indian end, and the Australians forced one penalty corner, which had to be taken at the end of the regulation time.
Strengthening the mid-field is a must and the players must refrain from simple, silly errors, like the way Daljit Singh Dhillon tried to pluck the ball from a rival forward not maintaining the five yards stipulation for a yellow card when only seven minutes remained from the whistle. The deep defence at times looked clumsy in its work, and Jugraj Singh delayed many a time causing avoidable panic and pressure.
Even assuming that the Aussies were demoralised, dejected and depressed after the two successive defeats, it is a fact that they controlled the trend, subjugated the defence to intense pressure and threatening to score at any time. The abominable wastage of penalty corners seemed an aberration, something that is alien to the known Aussie character.
India hit the board from a penalty stroke conversion by Jugraj Singh against the run of play midway in the first half. A delectable move involving Deepak and Dhanraj ended in Gaudoin obstructing the former. Scotland's David Leiper showed the spot and Jugraj slotted the ball home. But the best effort of the match came a few minutes later. Dhanraj conceived a brilliant move that put Prabhjot Singh on the run. After moving ahead, Prabhajot paved the way with an adroit pass which was tapped home by Deepak Thakur.
A 2-0 lead should have been a catalyst for achieving the best score. But India preferred to defend the lead, invited pressure on the defence and almost submerged. Scott Webster broke through from the left with a neat solo run to beat Devesh Chauhan. The only chance India had after was from a backhander by Deepak Thakur, which missed the mark.
There was no palpable shift in the trend even as the Aussies struggled to put it across. Zain Wright from the left made a couple of dangerous raids but was thwarted well by Devesh Chauhan. Midway through, India earned the first penalty corner. A fierce shot by Dilip Tirkey was delected into roof of the net by Gagan Ajit Singh like a flash.
Any thought of India having accomplished what it was looking for proved only a complacent inference. The stress on the defence aggravated by the second and the swift moves prompted on the left by Adam Commens and Paul Gaudoin from the middle flummoxed the Indian defence which survived more on the rival's inefficiency inside the circle than on any tackling merit.
Only a minute remained from the hooter when Dean Butler directed a free hit into the net to restrict the margin. Given the history of Indians succumbing in the final minutes a draw was not ruled out but luck was on their side today.
India has four points in three matches and takes on Paksitan tomorrow in what many believe is going to be the perfect match of hockey.
The Tournament Director, Douglas T. Grey, has said that the Korean umpire, Han Jin Soo, who tore a muscle while officiating the match between India and Germany, is permitted to go back home and take medical assistance.
Wednesdy's matches: Germany v Korea (6-45 p.m. IST); India v Pakistan (9-15 p.m.).
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