India displayed superb composure in their crucial league match against Australia. In their last three matches against Pakistan, Malaysia and today’s game with the Aussies, India collectively scored 16 goals and had only 4 scored against them. This speaks volumes about India’s performance and commitment in the Sultan of Johar Hockey U-21 tournament of 2014. India is also on record to have won the trophy in 2013 and though they lost to Germany in 2012, they have had a great outing in the unique juniors’ event in Malaysia except in the tournament’s inaugural year of 2011. India is also the only country to have made it to the final in the third successive year. Their opponent in the final is Great Britain, who have entered the tournament for the first time this year and they have so far had a wonderful time, having won all their league games with consummate ease. The tournament concludes tomorrow, after which the six best U-21 hockey teams in the world will be decided.
Before India took to the field against Australia on Saturday October 18, no one would have thought of a performance that they produced and this included the team coach and the players. But the boys continued from their latest rejuvenation against Pakistan and they stunned their worst critics by a thumping 6-2 win against the highly talented Australians. As the match began, India went on in an attacking mode, knowing fully well that Australia had developed an aggressive brand of hockey. The shocked Australians suddenly found an enemy, who appeared to have mastered their own skills. As Indian forwards moved repeatedly towards the Australian goal, the Aussies defense lay shattered. The initial Indian onslaught resulted in the first penalty corner in the 6th minute and there was Hermanpreet, who converted the opportunity for India to take a 1-0 lead. Hermanpreet had scored a hat-trick in the game against Malaysia, where he converted from all three penalty corners that gave his opportunities for strike. Indian enhanced their lead in the 9th minutes by a field goal. Parvinder Singh was on a great spot in front of the Australian goal, when he received a nice pass and all that Singh required to do was to deflect the cross. Parvinder made no error leaving the Australians at their wits end. India didn’t relax and increased the lead in the 19th minute. In a smart move, India surprised the Aussies defenders, when midfielder Simranjeet Singh moved quickly with the ball and had to take a diving posture before sending the ball into the goal. Four minutes later, India’s score read 4-0, when Pawan Kumar charged into the box to receive a lovely cross from his colleague and shook the net with a powerful drive. The match was still 10 minutes away from halftime, when Australia reduced the deficit by converting a penalty corner. This 25th minute opportunity was made good by Brandan Horner as the Aussies got their first goal in the match. Two minutes later, however, it was India’s turn to get a penalty corner. It was a great hit by Harmanpreet Singh, which was wrongly stopped by Aussie defenders. Very promptly, the referee made a penalty stroke award and it was taken by Harmanpreet. The Indian star did not leave any opportunity for the Australian goalkeeper Ashleigh Thomas as India went ahead 5-1 and the teams retired for the break at that score.
Australia came to the second half with a better planning and they made a few attempts on the Indian goal. From a solid 5-1 lead by this time, India was not about to allow Australia any luxuries. India earned the first penalty corner after the break and once again it was Harmanpreet, whose shot did not fail to find the target. For the second match in a row, Harmanpreet earned a hat-trick. This 44th minute goal took India to a nearly unassailable lead. There were moves and counter-moves in the remaining period of the match and Australians were lucky to earn another penalty corner in the 64th minute, from which Brandan Horner reduced India’s lead a little bit. With few minutes remaining, it was impossible for Australia to force a victory against the superior Indian side and the final whistle blew away all their hopes. Harmanpreet was aptly named the player-of-the-match for the second time. He is also the lead scorer with 7 goals in the tournament so far.
India’s victory was hailed by one and all. The boys demonstrated tremendous commitment and team-work was in full focus in the entire match. India’s Coach Harendra Singh was beaming with joy as he told the media that his team maintained the domination against an Australian side that was considered as a tough team in the tournament. Tomorrow will be a day of reckoning for India, when they take on Great Britain to defend their 2013 title.