Putting behind its dismal 2-5 defeat at the hands of late entrants France on Saturday, Indian team was quickly back to its terms with a scintillating 10-2 win against hosts South Africa in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2022 at Potchefstroom on Sunday. Vice-captain and drag flicker Harmanpreet Singh, who was adjudged man of the match, also recorded a hat-trick of goals.
India won three of its four FIH Pro League games to end with nine points. It suffered a shock 2-5 defeat at the hands of France in its second game against its European opponent on Saturday.
The pool leaders the Netherlands continued with its winning spree defeating France 5-1, thanks to three goals by Brinkman brothers, Jasper and Thierry (2). The Netherlands have already logged 11 points from its four games in South Africa.
India’s drag flick specialist Harmanpreet Singh (36′, 52′, 60′, 60′) starred in the match with four sensational goals. Surender Kumar (15′), Shilanand Lakra (27′, 48′), Mandeep Singh (28′), Sumit (45′) and Shamsher Singh (56′) were other scorers that ensured India ended its South African sojourn on a winning note. For Shilanand Lakra, these were his first two goals for India.
For South Africa, Daniel Bell (12′) and Connor Beauchamp (53′) were the scorers.
During the match, both teams displayed high intensity hockey offering some thrilling moments especially in the first half. While it was India who were quick to create a scoring opportunity through a penalty corner in the very first minute of the game, India’s ace drag flicker Harmanpreet’s drive was well blocked by the South African defenders. Five minutes later, South African defenders fashioned a similar block when Jugraj Singh took the drag hoping to fetch India an early lead.
The hosts, however, did not miss an opportunity to convert when Cassiem brothers worked their skills to earn South Africa their first penalty corner of the match. In a re-take, Daniel Bell struck a fine goal to put his team ahead by 1-0 in the 12th minute. India, on the other hand, were quick to reply when Surender Kumar pumped a brilliant field goal in the 15th minute.
While South Africa showed great intent in the second quarter, working towards regaining the lead, an alert Indian defence prevented it from scoring. In the 24th minute, experienced Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh came up with a fine save when South Africa was awarded a penalty corner. In the following minutes, Shilanand Lakra scored from a good assist by Shamsher Singh while Mandeep Singh scored India’s third goal and put his team ahead by a comfortable 3-1 lead.
After the 10-minute half-time break, South Africa bounced back with some potent attacks. It mounted pressure when a penalty stroke was awarded after an Indian infringement, but Krishan Pathak was exceptional to make a brilliant save and denied the hosts an opportunity to narrow the lead. In the following minutes, Pathak braved a flurry of shots on goal by South African attackers, not allowing any room for a goal. While South Africa continued to dominate with ball possession, it could not succeed in converting goals. India, in the meantime, scored through Harmanpreet Singh’s drag flick in the 36th minute followed by a goal from Sumit that put India ahead by 5-1. It scored five more goals in the final quarter through Shilanand (48′) and Harmanpreet (52′, 60′, 60′) and Shamsher Singh (56′). Although South Africa scored through a well-converted penalty corner by Connor Beauchamp in the 53rd minute, it couldn’t stop India from ending its campaign with a 10-2 win.
India will next play against Spain on February 26 and 27 on the home turf at the iconic Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands women’s hockey team has expressed its inability to travel to India for its FIH Pro League games against India on February 19 and 20. The Dutch have quoted Omicron pandemic as reasons for its hesitancy to travel to India for a six-day tour. The new dates would of these matches will be announced later by the FIH.