India versus England games in hockey have always been close encounters and the precedent was followed on Sunday. India’s second Pool D match against England was as close an affair as it could be with the teams sharing honours at the Birsa Munda International Stadium, finishing with a 0-0 draw that leaves England on top of the group and India having to necessarily beat Wales by a handful of goals to have any chance of avoiding the crossover mess and make the quarterfinals.
But for a game in which no goals were scored, the proceedings on field had more drama than most. It was intense from the word go, end-to-end action for a few minutes before England took charge. For almost the entire first half, it didn’t look like India’s game. England did what it had promised – push hard, go for the attack and keep the foot on the pedal. That earned the team five penalty corners in two minutes and only some desperate running by Amit Rohidas and Manpreet Singh denied the men in red.
The host played like amateurs, making basic trapping errors and watching the ball instead of rushing to meet it. The PCs conceded were off silly mistakes and the entire forward line seemed to have gone to sleep. They failed to create enough PCs, messed the few chances they got and appeared to be clueless when the ball did enter the England circle despite crowding in. It was a very different India from the one that turned up against Spain, struggling to even hold the ball for more than a couple of seconds before regrouping towards the end of the second quarter for the slightest of momentum shift.
Coach Graham Reid was visibly upset on the sidelines. One would like to know what he said in the break; India appeared to have renewed purpose and increased sharpness in its attempts to break the deadlock. There were more circle entries, more shots on target and several scoring chances thwarted only by some exceptional performance by Oliver Payne in the goal, earning a deserved player of the match.
For India, the star was undoubtedly Hardik Singh before he hobbled off with what looked like a strained hamstring with just over three minutes remaining on the clock and Reid admitted he was being looked at. He was everywhere -- controlling the midfield, assisting the attack, falling back to defend and running circles around the opposition.
When Jarmanpreet Singh earned a penalty seconds later and England earned a PC with 19 seconds left, it looked like India’s worst nightmare would come true. That didn’t happen, though, as India lived to fight another day.
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