After a captivating and enthralling first leg of the 4-Nation Hockey Invitational in New Zealand where India picked up silver, the national team kept itself on course with a rousing 3-2 win over hosts New Zealand. Like the sunshine that covered the ground completely and then slowly ebbed away, so did India’s game. But the resilience inside the Indian defence was like a brick wall. If it was breached, then the defenders also need to pick up a portion of the fault, especially on the first Kiwi goal where the reaction was as delayed as a 50-year-old running an Olympic sprint final.
Yet, they controlled portions, rotated the ball and stayed on course for another shot at a second 4-Nation Final in Hamilton.
The scorers for India were Lalit Upadhyay (7th), Harjeet Singh (penalty corner, 32nd) and Rupinder Pal Singh (penalty corner, 36th). The hosts scored through Daniel Harris (23rd) and Russel Kane (penalty corner, 37th).
India was in with their seniors all playing–Rupinder Pal, Manpreet and Harmanpreet–the main stays of the team. The only one who was missing was Chinglensana, rested for this encounter and would be available for the match against Belgium. The start was fast and the breaks came from the flanks rather than any superlative runs through the middle. Later in the second and especially in the third and fourth quarter, Vivek Sagar, in his first senior tournament, showed the deft stick-work and his smart positional play that gave him a spot in the Indian national team. His control was impeccable and the best part about the Madhya Pradesh player was his swift switching inside the middle of the field and also in the striking circle. Deft stick-work apart, he sent the Kiwi players the wrong way by just turning his stick one way and going the other. With a good speed, he was able to break quite a few times.
The opening goal came in the seventh minute, a deflection scored by Lalit Upadhyay from inside a sea of Kiwi and Indian bodies. Early goals in such encounters are a must; they put the opponent under pressure and allow the attacking team to press further. With two minutes left in the first quarter, both Ramandeep Singh and Dilpreet Singh had chances but the Kiwi goalkeeper Devon Manchester brought off smart saves.
Build-ups for New Zealand were excellent in the second half, a low period for the Indian team. They were pushed back and New Zealand also had three penalty corners to show for their dominance. Two penalty corners, early in the quarter were saved even though the Indian defence were looking into the sun. Phillips Hayden was the main creator during this period, switching play from the right flank to the middle, upsetting the rhythm of the Indian side. The Kiwis also changed the point of play very fast. Within seconds, relaying the ball from flank to flank and then suddenly charging through the middle. It was Hugo Inglis who created the first goal. Going past two Indian defenders and then with a reverse hit forcing Sreejeesh to take it on the pads. The rebound fell free and as the Indian defenders waited, expecting the other to go for the ball, out of nowhere swooped in Daniel Harris and swept it into goal. Careless from the Indians but an amazing piece of work from the Kiwis. At 1-1, they were getting into the Indians head. The Kiwis kept pressing. They even had a third penalty corner and the deflection was just missed by Inglis who had a good match on a day he earned his 200th cap.