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FIH Hockey Pro League: Defence stands tall as India hold red-hot Australia to a 2-2 draw | Hockey News


When the FIH Pro League lineup for the Odisha mini tournament was confirmed, it was immediately obvious that the Indian men’s hockey team would face four stern – and important – tests over two legs against Australia and the Netherlands. With Paris Olympics as the aim, these were the games where India would have to show what level they were at.

On Saturday in Rourkela, Harmanpreet Singh’s men held Australia for a hard-fought 2-2 draw before losing the shootout 0-3 to miss out on a bonus point. With that result, India finished with three draws in regulation time against the two powerhouses and lost once 4-6 against Australia in a crazy match.

Harmanpreet gave India the lead with a drag flick (20′), before Blake Govers equalised from a penalty stroke (23′). Amit Rohidas, a local hero from hockey hotbed Sundergarh, fired India into the lead again from a Penalty Corner again (30′). Tom Craig (53′) took the match to the shootout where India’s forwards missed all of their chances.

While head coach Craig Fulton would have liked to see a win or two in there, to hold Australia – who had 6 wins in 6 matches so far – for their first draw will be considered a good night’s work. And the key to it was defence, as Harmanpreet pointed out after the match.

Sample this: Australia had scored 28 goals in their 6 matches, for an average of 4.67. In addition, India tend to concede a bunch against the Kookaburras. In their last 10 official meetings – dating back to the Tokyo Olympics – India have let in a whopping 51 goals against the Aussies. It’s a clash of styles that India have just not been able to keep a lid on in recent times.

For Fulton, that would have been the most frustrating aspect a few nights back when India went down 0-2 early, then stormed back to take a 4-2 lead before conceding four more in the second half. The South African, whose favourite word is perhaps control, the mantra is defend-to-win.

His team showed they could keep one of the freest-scoring sides relatively quiet, with a collective defensive display. Firstly, Manpreet Singh had a fabulous game in the midfield, breaking up play and going forward with creativity. But that meant Fulton needed others to step up in the defence. Sumit, who has had a fine few days in defence, was once again mighty impressive with his deep tackles. When he broke up play, he wasn’t afraid to carry it forward either.

Festive offer

When India made mistakes in the midfield on a couple of occasions, Hardik Singh and Manpreet dropped deeper to bail their teammates out.

In goal, there was concern for India on the night as PR Sreejesh went off midway through the second quarter but came back with a bandaged knee in the final quarter and saved a stroke (that he conceded in the first place) from Govers to keep India ahead. Krishan Pathak had a better night too in goal.

It wasn’t the cleanest of matches from both sides, both sides were guilty of losing the ball leading to transitions. The two strokes that India conceded on the night were both avoidable tackles from behind (Amit and Sreejesh). Australia’s second goal also came from India losing the ball in their own area.

But where it lacked in quality, the match made up for in drama. There were mini scuffles across the pitch when the man-to-man marking got tight. The video umpire was made to earn his payday as there was a barrage of reviews, with India successfully reviewing five times. Australia had a goal ruled out too via referral.

The moment of the night was goalkeeper Johan Durst pulling off an audacious save at the end of the third quarter to deny Abhishek. A rasping hit from the edge of the circle seemed destined to go in when Durst dived with the stick out to his right to deflect it behind. He’d eventually keep a clean sheet in the shootout too for a Player of the Match display.

Losing two shootouts back-to-back is not ideal for India, but the Pro League tiebreakers are usually low-key affairs, so that shouldn’t worry India too much. But to avoid a loss against Australia by keeping them to two goals is a performance that would fall under the positive bracket for control-driven Fulton.





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