Harmanpreet Singh gave away plenty with his goal celebrations during India’s 4-0 win against Pakistan on Monday in the Asian Champions Trophy.
Harmanpreet and his boys were the favourites in the contest. But they were taken by surprise in the early minutes. Pakistan’s exuberant forward line of Abdul Hannan Shahid, Afraz, and Abdul Rana was at it again. Their neat dribbling combined with pace had pushed India to the backfoot.
In the second minute, Pakistan stunned the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium into silence when Rana cut past Shamsher Singh and fired the ball into the circle for Hannan to guide it home. A timely referral saved India the blushes as the goal changed to a penalty corner for Pakistan. Krishan Bahadur Pathak saved the corner and India survived.
But even after the reprieve, India was overwhelmed by nerves. It got chances, but for some error or the other, a goal eluded it.
Then, in the final minute of the first period, India got a chance to pull ahead - a penalty corner.
Tip of the iceberg
One could compare India’s numbers in penalty corners in the ongoing tournament to an iceberg - the 11 conversions (the highest) being the figurative ‘tip’ above the surface and the 28 misses lying underneath.
Craig Fulton’s team had a tough time converting its short corner chances against Malaysia and Japan. Harmanpreet, the premier drag flicker in the unit, naturally came under the firing line. The penalty stroke miss against Korea was salt in the wound.
But by now, Harmanpreet has learned to take things on the chin. “My role is such that I have a responsibility (to score). You also have the right to ask,” said Harmanpreet.
It is mind-boggling when the leading goalscorer of a tournament finds himself under the pump for not scoring enough. The person in question happens to be the leading scorer in the FIH Pro League too. Harmanpreet scored 18 goals in 14 games in 2022/23 - 16 coming from corners.
Fulton, the soothsayer, cancels the naysayers
Fulton, though, was sure that the conversions would come by. And so it turned out on Wednesday.
As Harmanpreet buried his first flick past Akmal Hussain, he let out a roar. A fist pump followed, and then another roar. The celebration was an aberration - starkly different from his usual muted high-fives seen in the recent past.
It was fitting for the occasion, though. And with that roar, the frustration was let out, and relief was found.
The goal gave a bit of bearing to India as the second quarter began, but Pakistan was not relenting just yet. Its darts into the Indian circle continued. The home team needed another goal to knock the wind out of its sails, and the skipper stepped up again.
The second flick, in the 23rd minute, went between Hussain’s legs. This time, there were no roars or fist pumps. Instead, Harmanpreet turned towards the frenzied crowd and held his stick up, almost as if to say, ‘I’m here, I’m back’. He ended the moment by pointing to the India crest.
“Every match, you want to do your best. You, at least, try. That is what the team does. What’s next is more important than what has already happened. The same is true of my drag flicks. If I miss, I know I’ll get more chances to score, and I’ll try my best,” said Harmanpreet after the match.
It was one-way traffic from that point on. India grew into the game and produced wave after wave of attacks. The nerves had finally settled. Jugraj Singh added a third in the third period before Akashdeep scored the fourth and final goal.
By the end of the game, India’s superiority made it difficult to imagine that the team was tentative at the start.
“Before the match, we discussed not to forget our plan. The crowd is going to be there. But we had to remember our responsibility, stay focused, and put the team first. I think everyone did well in that regard,” said Harmanpreet.
And it was the skipper who led by example by putting the team first. Unfazed by the noise, rising to the occasion and delivering in the crunch moment.
- Elena Norman resigns as Hockey India CEO
- Ranji Trophy LIVE score, Day 5 Quarterfinal lunch updates: Kotian, Deshpande help Mumbai set 606-run target vs Baroda; Vidarbha nears win vs Karnataka
- Kotian, Deshpande register second-highest 10th wicket partnership in Ranji Trophy history
- CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup: US falls to Mexico for the second time ever, losing 2-0
- Ramsay leaves Man Utd to become head coach of MLS side Minnesota United