Seventeen minutes of absolute brilliance and assertive control, wedged between overall superiority and nervous moments, saw India register its second win in as many games of the FIH Pro League here on Sunday. It nudged past Australia 5-4 in a nine-goal thriller that consigned the opponent to its second straight defeat. According to FIH records, India last beat Australia in a major competition in 1996 in the Champions Trophy.
Captain Harmanpreet Singh’s hat-trick set the tone for the Indians though the hosts trailed by a goal scored by Joshua Beltz in the third minute. The Australians finally showed glimpses of old, taking charge of the attack and being a lot more confident in their forays. Beltz drew first blood off a counter, the constant pressing piling on the pressure for the Indian defence.
The youngsters in the Indian side appeared shaky, trying to come to terms with the speedy opponents and taking time to settle down. India earned four consecutive penalty corners but couldn’t make them count. However, Harmanpreet’s low flick to the left pulled the team level and steadied nerves. A minute later, Abhishek was tripped, another PC earned and another scored. Just like that, the momentum changed at the end of the first quarter and the next 15 minutes were pure adrenaline for the 20,000 fans in the stands.
A push on Vishnukant Singh led to Jugraj Singh converting the resultant penalty stroke three minutes on resumption. Selvam Karthi’s dodge past Jake Harvie and reverse hit into the net from the top of circle in the 26th minute was one for the ages. At half-time, India was ahead 4-1. The Aussies had no idea what hit them, but regrouped after the break.
The visitors came back stronger, pushing hard, punishing India for taking the pressure off the ball. Australia also overcame its tentativeness, opened up space across the width of the turf, built pressure and slowly advanced.
The Indian defence, strong till then, became inconsistent although goalkeeper Pawan Malik again came up with several stellar saves to keep the host in front. Lack of discipline seemed to creep in again and Australia clawed back, goal by goal. At 4-3, with a shootout looming, India picked up pace all of a sudden, earned a penalty corner and Harmanpreet got his third.
A desperate Australia threw everything, took off the goalkeeper and camped in the Indian half but could get only one of the two goals it needed to stretch the game. It wasn’t to be.
RESULT: India 5 (Harmanpreet 14, 15 & 56, Jugraj 18, Karthi 26) bt Australia 4 (Beltz 3, Willott 43, Staines 53, Zelewski 57).