HIL: Whetton wins it for Punjab Warriors

Australian Jacob Whetton scored an early field goal to hand Jaypee Punjab Warriors a 2-0 victory over defending champions Ranchi Rays in their opening match of the Hockey India League (HIL).

Indian players Manpreet Singh and Sardar Singh fight for the ball in the Hockey India League encounter between Jaypee Punjab Warriors and Ranchi Rays   -  Special Arrangement

Australian Jacob Whetton scored an early field goal to hand Jaypee Punjab Warriors a 2-0 victory over defending champions Ranchi Rays in their opening match of the Hockey India League (HIL), here today.

Under the newly introduced scoring system, a field goal is counted as two and the hosts did enough to defend their early strike to secure a win.

Whetton found the opposition net as early as in the second minute of the match to give the lead to Punjab Warriors, which they stoutly defended for the remaining 68 minutes, to stun the title holders.

Whetton slotted home a fine field goal from a counter-attack after he was assisted by Punjab Warriors skipper Sardar Singh, who switched base from Delhi Waveriders this season.

Punjab Warriors caught Ranchi, co-owned by India cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, napping in a swift counter-attack. Sardar set it up for Whetton from the right with a brilliant pass and the Australian did enough to dodge past an onrushing Ranchi goalkeeper Tyler Lovell, to score the goal.

Though Punjab Warriors looked more orgainsed than their opponents, Ranchi got a golden opportunity to draw level in the 18th minute but skipper Ashley Jackson’s flick from a penalty corner was blocked by Punjab Warriors goalkeeper Tristian Clemons. Ranchi had another scoring chance later on in the first half but Jackson’s slap shot did not trouble Punjab Warriors custodian.

After the cross-over, Punjab Warriors came out with more purpose and attacked Ranchi goal at ease and in the process earned three penalty corners but the chances went in vain.

While Whetton’s try from the first penalty corner hit the right post, the effort from the second set piece went wide. Warriors had another scoring opportunity in the final quarter, but Christopher Ciriello’s effort did not yield result.

Ranchi came out all guns blazing in the final quarter but their forward-line failed to get the final touch which could have earned them a draw.

Punjab Warriors will meet Delhi Waveriders in their next match here tomorrow, while Ranchi will play Uttar Pradesh Wizards in Lucknow on Friday.

After the match, Whetton thanked Sardar for the fine assist and also lauded his team’s backline to hold on to the lead.

“It was good that Sardar provided the ball in time and I was there at the right place for the goal. Also, we put up a very good defensive performance as well, so it was a good win,” said Whetton, who was adjudged player-of-the-match.