The Indian hockey men’s team won for the first time in four games against Australia as they emerged 3-1 winners in the penalty shootout after the match ended 2-2 in normal time in the FIH Pro League clash in Bhubaneswar on Saturday.
The start of the game saw both the home team and Australia cede possession in the early exchanges but the Kookaburras launched an attack to earn a penalty corner after Amit Rohidas failed to clear his lines.
The subsequent drag-flick was saved by PR Sreejesh, who furiously asked his defence to reorganise after the Aussies had regained the ball quickly. India looked far more assured than on Friday but did not really test Tyler Lovell in the Australian goal.
Simranjeet Singh, starting furthest in attack, shot just wide of the frame and the home side had seemingly fallen behind when Lachlan Sharp put the ball in after Australia had used a double-trap decoy in a penalty corner.
However, the Indian hockey team were vindicated by the video referee when they contended that Daniel Beale had impeded the Indian hockey goalkeeper in the build-up.
Ramandeep Singh then fired two shots wide after thunderous balls in by captain Manpreet Singh, and vice-captain, Harmanpreet Singh. The Indian hockey team then lost their video referral after they unsuccessfully appealed against a penalty corner.
The first quarter ended goalless but India should have been ahead early in the second but Jarmanpreet Singh missed a gilt-edged chance, not finding the sweet spot of his stick to meet a great ball in by Amit Rohidas from the right.
The teams were cautious of one another but it was Australia who broke the deadlock with a well-taken goal by Trent Mitton. The forward played a lovely one-two with Nathan Ephraums before finding an almost non-existent gap at Krishan Pathak’s near post.
India hit back on the double
Australia were guilty of not converting their penalty corners even after using multiple set-ups and they were made to pay for it five minutes from the half-time whistle. Vivek Sagar Prasad won the Indian hockey team’s first penalty corner and Rupinder Pal Singh nutmegged Tyler Lovell with his drag-flick to get them level.
A couple of minutes later, it was the turn of another youngster, Hardik Singh to win the Indian hockey team a penalty corner after some clever play while moving forward.
The hosts also looked to confuse the Aussies, with two players ready to trap and while it did not work the first time around, Harmanpreet Singh scored his first penalty corner in the FIH Pro League seconds later to give the Indian hockey team the lead for the first time in two days.
The teams were evenly matched in terms of circle penetrations, ball possession and shots at goal and were only separated by the Indian hockey team’s killer instinct from penalty corners.
A goalless and listless third quarter
The second-half began with Australia winning two penalty corners in quick succession and Jeremy Hayward seemed to have finally put one in at the eighth time of asking via a deflection off Manpreet Singh.
However, the Indian hockey men’s skipper immediately gestured that the ball had come off his hamstring, prompting the umpire to go upstairs, who ruled it too high and disallowed the equalizer.
Further disappointment was in store for the Aussies as Tim Brand hit the post from a penalty stroke, awarded for Raj Kumar Pal’s stick tackle inside the circle. Ramandeep Singh then went close at the other end with some slick skills on the stick.
The game somewhat slowed down in the third quarter with both teams not really going on the offensive and the Indian hockey defence were in position to intercept any balls from Australia.
Aran Zalewski gets Australia level
Krishan Pathak swapped places with PR Sreejesh for the final quarter and the young custodian was guilty of poor keeping for the second time in the match as he failed to stop a first-time shot from Aran Zalewski, instead deflecting it in from the unmarked midfielder.
The game was drifting toward a draw but suddenly sprung to life four minutes from the end. Krishan Pathak kicked out a stray ball after a scrap in the Indian circle, launching a counter-attack from which Vivek Sagar Prasad could not meet a cross.
Nilakanta Sharma then saw his reverse stick shot saved and Matt Dawson failed to score from yet another penalty corner dummy from Australia to take the tie to a penalty shootout.
Clinical India earn bonus point
The Indian hockey team won the penalty shootout 3-1 through goals from Harmanpreet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Lalit Upadhyay as only Matt Dawson could respond for Australia.
Daniel Beale stepped up first for Australia but was tripped by PR Sreejesh, giving Australia a penalty stroke which Matt Dawson got enough power behind to take it past the Indian custodian, who guessed correctly.
PR Sreejesh conceded another penalty stroke, tripping Tim Brand but Daniel Beale shot wide this time and then Jake Harvie put the ball in after the hooter sounded to resign Australia to a defeat and also concede a bonus point in the process.
FIH Pro League points table
The Indian hockey team is currently fourth in the FIH Pro League points table with 10, with Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia occupying the top three spots.
Australia also have 10 points but are ahead courtesy a goal difference of three compared to two for the Indian hockey team.
What next for the Indian hockey team at FIH Pro League
A couple of months' rest beckons for the Indian hockey men’s team as their next clash in the FIH Pro League will be against Germany on April 25 and 26. It will also be their first away fixture of the season as they travel to Berlin in hopes of getting back into the top three.