MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup: Red-hot Railways, PNB favourites to sail through semis

The two teams have gone about their business in the group matches with ruthless ease.

Can Bengaluru’s penalty corner specialist V. R. Raghunath (left) produce his magic yet again to overcome PNB?   -  R. Ragu

Indian Railways and Punjab National Bank (PNB) have literally toyed with their opponents in their Pools (‘A’ and ‘B’) in the 91st MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup All-India hockey tournament, and to look beyond the two teams when the semifinals begin on Saturday would perhaps be imprudent.

Railways and PNB have scored 17 and 18 goals, respectively, in the tournament, and have conceded just five goals each. The two teams have gone about their business in the group matches with ruthless ease. Going by form and group performance, it would be fair to pick Railways and PNB as the favourites to reach the final.

Railways, especially, has been a class-act. Starting its campaign with a 6-2 decimation of Bengaluru HA, it defeated Punjab & Sind Bank 3-1, before blanking Hockey Unit of TN 5-0 and defeating BPCL 4-2.

In all these matches, the forwards have not let their foot off the pedal. Raju Paul, Ranjan Aiyappa, Karan Pal Singh and Ajmer Singh have scored consistently to put Railways away from harm’s end. And aided effectively by Pardeep Singh and Gauravjeet Singh at the back, Railways has been consistent on all fronts.

PNB, too has a very strong forward and defensive structure. Thrashing Odisha by six goals, ONGC by five, Army by three and Central Secretariat by four goals, it has showcased the effectiveness of its bunch of forwards led by Gurjinder Singh and Shamsher Singh.

Possessing a well-chiselled physique, Gagandeep Singh (Sr.) has proved to be quite proficient in penalty-corner conversions. Gagandeep Singh (Jr.) has depicted his skills with a couple of eye-catching goals. Skipper Shivdeep Dawra has been working quietly with his precise passes. Satpal Singh, Ravinder Tewatia and Sanjay have proved to be more than adequate at the back.

Suprise

The surprise pack in the semifinals has been Bengaluru HA. Assembled a few days before the tournament, chief coach Ashish Ballal has done wonders with the team. After the thrashing at the hands of Railways, Bengaluru picked itself up with a fighting win over BPCL followed by a convincing win over Punjab & Sind Bank. The question is can penalty corner specialist V. R. Raghunath produce his magic yet again to overcome PNB?

ONGC, on the other hand, has done well, losing only to PNB in the Pool. Diwakar Ram has been the go-to man in penalty corners, and he has not failed the team. The second choice , Nilam Xess is shaping up well. Mithilesh and Machaiah have scored under crunch situations. How it handles a rampaging forward-line of Railways will be interesting to watch.

All in all, the semifinals, it is fervently hoped, will be nothing less than riveting.

Semifinals

Saturday, 1615 IST: Railways v ONGC

Saturday, 1800 IST: PNB v Bengaluru HA