After nine days and 40 matches, including 36 group matches, and a good majority of them one-sided, the Hockey India 13th Senior National men’s hockey championship has entered the last four stage.
More than anything, the inclusion of 31 players from the National core group for the first time in the Senior Nationals after a brief hiatus has been a shot in the arm for the sport.
Playing against the likes of Indian captain Harmanpreet Singh, forwards Lalit Kumar Upadhyay and Abhishek Nain, among others would have done the young players a world of good.
The semifinals of the Nationals to be held here on Monday will witness Punjab taking on Karnataka and Tamil Nadu challenging defending champion Haryana.
A special mention must be made of the host, Tamil Nadu. Placed in Group B, TN had it very easy, winning matches against Arunachal and Assam. In the quarterfinals, it had a mountain to climb against Uttar Pradesh, and the odds were favouring the visitor. TN’s captain Joshua Benedict Wesley did the star-turn scoring a brace in TN’s 3-2 victory. It was the never-say-die spirit that proved to be the key.
Punjab will be the odds-on favourite against Karnataka, which has played like a well-oiled machine, it has its task cut out.
Haryana met its match in Odisha in the last eight clash. International Abhishek, however, bailed the team out by converting in ‘sudden death’. In the semifinals, Haryana has an opponent which will fight till the end.
There is a view that to avoid lop-sided matches, there be a segregation of teams based on their past performances and putting in place a ‘relegation and promotion’ system. India’s head coach Craig Fulton, acknowledged it when he told Sportstar that he has discussed it with Hockey India.
The introduction of video referral has been another bright spot for the Nationals. The 13th Senior Nationals, one hopes, will be the beginning of many such spots.
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