India outplays New Zealand in hockey series opener

Rupinder Pal Singh converts two penalty corners as the home side posts a 4-2 win in the first of three Test matches.

Rupinder Pal Singh in action in the first Test. Photo: Special Arrangement

Rupinder Pal Singh showed he was returning to form ahead of the Asian Games with a brace in India's victory over New Zealand here on Thursday. The drag-flicker converted two penalty corners as the home side posted a comfortable 4-2 win in the first of three Test matches at the SAI here.

Rupinder had been rested for the Champions Trophy after pulling his hamstring during the Commonwealth Games. Having steadily worked on his fitness, the towering defender turned in some good performances in practice matches against the touring Bangladesh and South Korea sides. He was now back playing at full intensity, Rupinder said after the game. "I'm playing after a long break. I feel fine physically. I'm really motivated. This is the first time I've played in this new jersey," he added.

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Chief coach Harendra Singh had recently rued India's poor conversion rate from penalty corners at the Champions Trophy; on Thursday India converted three of five. "We got none from six. There's the difference," the New Zealand coach Darren Smith said.

'Humming'

Smith admitted that India had improved since the teams last met — in the semifinals of the Commonwealth Games, a game New Zealand won. "India are humming. They've obviously prepared really hard for the Asian Games," he felt.

The match was held on a training ground on the SAI premises, and thus not open to the public. The matches could have been played at the hockey stadium in the city, but there were logistical challenges, an official said.

"Obviously, I'd love to play in front of a crowd. If people are cheering for us, it encourages us more," said Rupinder. Smith agreed: "It would be nice to have a stadium and a full house but I have no problems."

The second match of the series will be played on Saturday.

The result: India 4 (Rupinder Pal Singh 2, 34, Mandeep Singh 15, Harmanpreet Singh 38) bt New Zealand 2 (Stephen Jenness 26, 55).

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