MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup: ONGC, Bengaluru HA provide final twist

ONGC and Bengaluru HA registered upset victories in their semifinal ties.

Jenjen Singh of Bengaluru HA celebrates after scoring a goal against Punjab National Bank on Saturday.   -  M. Vedhan

ONGC and Bengaluru HA provided a twist to the tale by reaching the final of the 91st MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup All-India hockey tournament here with upset victories.

ONGC ousted defending champion Indian Railways 5-3 in a refreshing change of tactics in the second session while Bengaluru shut out a late surge by favourite Punjab National Bank (PNB) to win 3-1 in the semifinals on Saturday.

Railways set the tempo pretty much in the first session. Even though ONGC matched the pace of the defending champion, it couldn't maintain its rhythm and as a result, in counter-attacks it left a gaping hole in the defence. Leading 3-2 at half-time, it was expected that the champion would come back even stronger. But, it was the other way round.

Holding the pace and getting its defence structure right, ONGC put up a strong performance in the second session. ONGC's Diwakar Ram, as he has been doing throughout tournament, sounded the boards off a penalty corner to equalise. For some reason or the other, Railways was unable to maintain the pace of the contest, and couldn't convert the deflections from crosses. Also, it failed to take advantage of the chances to score in the preceding five penalty corners.

Whereas, ONGC took its chances when Bikas Toppo deflected one into the net in a penalty corner move. Then, Diwakar Ram completed a brace through a stroke, and the team's fifth goal to cause a major upset.

Tables turned

If Railways losing to ONGC is an upset, what Bengaluru did was something out of the ordinary. Comprising mostly youngsters in the forward-line with Vikram Kanth, Vinaya and Raghunath as seniors to guide them, Bengaluru did the unthinkable with a solid performance, beating PNB all ends up.

Possessing a strong front-line in the form of Gurjinder Singh, Shamsher Singh, PNB looked a pale shadow of a team which had shone brightly in the group matches.

Vinaya, who toiled hard in the wings providing clean passes, assisted in Bengaluru's first goal early in the first half. Holding the ball, Sandeep Singh scored a withering backhander that found the middle of the roof.

The second goal was one for posterity. Rajkumar Pal ran with the ball from the centre, hoodwinking three defenders to give a precise pass to Umesha, who just had to tap it home.

Trailing by two goals, PNB attacked with gusto with Sukhjeet Singh, Banmali Xess turning out to be dangerous in the circle. After Gagandeep Singh sounded the boards in a penalty corner, PNB started to look like a team that had founds its mojo, but Bengaluru took the match away from the bank's team when Jenjen Singh, who has been outstanding in the tournament with his runs, pushed one home.

The results (Semifinals):

ONGC 5 (Mandeep Antil 7, Tyron Perreira 35, Diwakar Ram 42 & 64, Bikash Toppo 61) bt Indian Railways 3 (Karan Pal Singh 8, Raju Paul 19, Sheshe Gowda 26); Bengaluru hA 3 (Sandeep Singh 10, K. R. Umesha 30, Jenjen Singh 61) bt PNB 1 (Gagandeep Singh 42).