Inspirational India hold Australia

Bhubaneswar: India made a mockery of the hockey world rankings by holding defending champions Australia to a 1-1 draw in their Pool B Men’s Hockey World League Finals (HWLF) here Friday at the Kalinga Stadium. World No.6 India were distinctly unlucky not to win the game against the second ranked Australians.  

Mandeep Singh put the hosts ahead in the 19th minute. However, the Aussies were quick to restore parity as Jeremy Hayward converted a penalty corner two minutes later. Matt Dawson of Australia was adjudged man of the match while the talented Dipsan Tirkey bagged the emerging player award.

India could have taken the lead in the opening minute of the game itself, but a fierce reverse hit by SK Uthappa was saved by Australian goalkeeper Tristan Clemons in the very first minute of the game. India continued with their attacking intent and created another chance, but Clemons kept out an Akashdeep Singh hit.

In the sixth minute India got a penalty corner and were distinctly unlucky not to go ahead when Rupinder Pal Singh’s attempt rebounded off the crosspiece.

Australia then slowly came into their own with some fine movements down both the flanks. They got their first penalty corner in the last minute of the first quarter, but Hayward failed to utilise it.

Australia looked aggressive at the start of the second quarter, but it was Mandeep who, stunned the visitors with a brilliant goal off a combined move.

Manpreet gathered the ball from deep inside the Indian half and then gave an inch-perfect midfield splitting reverse hit to Lalit Upadhyay who in turn sent the ball forward to Mandeep inside the Australian circle and the striker did the rest to send the capacity crowd into frenzy. However, the joy was short-lived as Hayward found the mark from Australia’s second penalty corner.

Thereafter, Australia earned another penalty corner when Amit Rohidas was found guilty of high stick inside his own circle but the Indian defence stood tall to thwart the danger and go into the breather locked at one goal apiece.

After the change of ends, India came with some intent and got a penalty corner in the 32nd minute, but failed to capitalise. Australia counter-attacked and got another penalty corner in the 40th minute. However, Indian custodian Akash Chikte thwarted the attempt. Although the third quarter failed to produce any goal, the visitors had greater ball possession and on more than one occasion threatened to score.

In the last quarter, the situation changed as the Men in Blue seemed to have found an extra wind. SV Sunil, SK Uthappa and Mandeep, backed up by constant feeding from the middle third of the pitch by Birendra Lakra and Manpreet frequently troubled the Aussie defence. They created a number of chances but misfired and had to be satisfied with only a point from their opening game – a match that they could have won.  

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