The India hockey team fell to their second-straight loss in the FIH Pro League as they lost 3-4 to three-time world champions Australia at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.
A new-look Indian hockey team welcomed Rupinder Pal Singh back into the starting XI following his absence against Belgium, but it was ineffective as Australia took the lead as early as the sixth minute.
The home side were rattled by the early blow and were thin with their passing, failing to find a teammate on many occasions. The Indian goalkeepers did not have much work to do in the half but PR Sreejesh did make a crucial save with his foot.
The rest of the first quarter went without much incident but the Kookaburras doubled their lead post the break. In a manner similar to the first goal, Tom Wickham found himself in the middle barely yards away and he made no mistake in slotting home.
The Indian hockey team had eight circle penetrations to Australia’s 10 but neither team threatened much, with their possession almost on par. India’s best chance came when the referee awarded them a penalty corner but Australia successfully appealed it to go into half-time with a 2-0 lead.
Instinctive Raj Kumar Pal scores maiden goal
The second-half was erratic to start with as both teams seemed cautious to attack each other. The Indian hockey team were awarded two penalty corners but Rupinder Pal Singh was unable to convert.
However, on the second one, youngster Raj Kumar Pal was lurking in the middle and when the rebound of a superb save from Australian keeper, Andrew Charter fell to him, he made no mistake, scoring his first goal for the senior team and cut the lead in half.
Australia hit two in quick succession
The Kookaburras were in no mood to relent as they regrouped to make more purposeful advances into the Indian hockey team circle. They won a penalty corner but Jeremy Hayward’s shot was blocked by Krishan Pathak.
The visitors hit back harder and capitalized on two defensive errors from the Indian backline to swiftly score two goals. Vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh failed to intercept a ball from the right and Lachlan Sharp swooped in to consolidate Australia’s lead.
Moments later, Jacob Anderson powered down the left flank unhindered and poked in a hopeful ball that squirmed itself under Krishan Pathak’s legs to put Australia 4-1 ahead.
Rupinder Pal Singh gives India ray of hope
The Kookaburras fell back a bit after the fourth goal and a dispirited Indian hockey team strung together a few attacking moves in hopes of getting back in the game.
With several forays into the opposition circle failing to yield a goal, Raj Kumar Pal tried an ambitious shot from just outside and his cross-field shot hit the far post and went in to halve the deficit once again.
A rejuvenated Indian hockey team then withheld a wave of attacks from Australia and launched some of their own but their final third passing left a lot to be desired. However, their third goal came through a very reliable source.
The home side’s third penalty corner was finally put away by drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh in the 52nd minute as he went hard and low to find the only existing gap between the keeper and last man, Lachlan Sharp.
The Indian hockey team pulled off their goalkeeper in the dying embers and Manpreet Singh saved the blushes with a goal-line block. India earned another penalty corner in the final seconds but Rupinder Pal Singh could not put it away as India fell to consecutive defeats in the FIH Pro League.
What next for India at FIH Pro League
The Indian hockey team will face off against the Kookaburras once again on Saturday at the Kalinga Stadium and will hope for redemption and move up the FIH Pro League points table.
The match will be telecast on Star Sports 1 HD and Star Sports 1 and will also be streamed live on Hotstar. Coverage starts at 7pm IST.