In less than two weeks after India defeated Pakistan in Asian Games gold medal match, the arch-rivals took on each other yet again in under-21 Sultan of Johor Cup 2014 Hockey Championship in Malaysia on October 15, 2014. Despite the former hockey giants having lost their edge in the game, which is now dominated by Australia and nations of Western Europe, any sporting event between the two neighbors still has the potential of drawing large crowd of their supporters to the venue. It wasn’t any different yesterday and although India had lost 0-2 to Great Britain in their earlier fixture, they played superbly to trounce Pakistan 6-0. Few teams in the world can make the game of hockey as artistically pleasing as India and Pakistan because of their old heritage. It is true that Australia and European teams play much more dominant game and win matches based on their short runs and accurate passes; they lack the dribbling abilities of the former hockey giants. The modern hockey tends to become mechanical and the viewing such games can be a dragging and dull experience. Nothing can replace the intense rivalry between India and Pakistan whether it is hockey, cricket or any other sport. Any encounter between the two Asian nations is generally an exercise of proving their superiority over one another in a peaceful way.
The Sultan of Johor Cup is played on round-robin league basis and it features six teams. At the end of the league games, the top two teams play for the championship game. The third and fourth placed teams fight for the bronze medal while the last two teams play for the 5th place. India is the defending champion and they are on record to have never lost to Pakistan in the championship since its inception in 2011. 2014 is the fourth edition of the only international hockey tournament for under-21 men. In 2011, India beat Pakistan 5-1, played a goalless draw in 2012 and beat them again 4-0 in 2013. India continued their vice-like grip against Pakistan yesterday at the Taman Daya Stadium in Johor Bahru. Although Pakistan entered the field with a bid to reverse that trend, they still fell behind India.
The game began with Pakistan winning two penalty corners in the first ten minutes but they couldn’t convert any. India too got the same number of penalty corners soon afterwards but like Pakistan, they also wasted the opportunity. In the 22nd minute, India went 1-0 ahead, when vice-captain Imran Khan converted the third penalty corner that came India’s way. Imran’s flick was actually saved by the Pakistan goalkeeper Muhammad Khalid but the ball rebounded in the field for Imran to drive it home yet again. Just before halftime, the Indians doubled their lead, when Parvinder Singh made it 2-0. The ball had come to Parvinder through a lovely cross sent by Gurinder Singh in the 34th minute and Parvinder deflected it without making any error.
After the break, India applied more pressure and converted a superb move. It was a wonderful field goal in the 49th minute by Armaan Quereshi, who finished his nice run by finally sounding the board. India won another penalty corner in the 53rd minute and this time, flick was taken by Harmanpreet Singh. Three minutes from close, Varun Kumar was the next Indian man to convert another penalty corner and in the closing stages, when one more penalty corner was awarded to India, Armaan Quereshi added his second goal of the match to make it 6-0 for his country.
India are third in the points table and they have two more matches remaining against Malaysia and Australia. If they must retain their crown, India must win these matches to at least finish second behind Britain, who appear to be dominating this tournament.
Hockey playing nations must learn something from the tenacity of the Australians. In their league match against the New Zealand the Aussies trailed 0-3 at one stage but they put that behind them and staged a marvelous fight back to emerge victors by a 4-3 margin. In turning the game around in their favor, the Australians displayed tremendous team spirit and clinical finishing. Until the41st minute, New Zealand were comfortably ahead but the Aussie fight back began in the 51st minute with Andrew Scanlon converting a penalty corner. Three minutes later, Joshua Brethern scored a field goal to make it 3-2. In the 57th minute, Australia drew level from an opportunistic goal from Oliver Crane. The decisive fourth goal was scored by Max Hendry, when he shot at the New-Zealand goal from a seemingly impossible position. There wasn’t much time left after that for New Zealand to come back into the match.