Murugappa Cup: Raghunath helps IOC win two in a row

V. R. Raghunath strikes in IOC’s second successive win; Gaganpreet Singh’s strike at the death secures a draw for PSB against ONGC.

IOC's V. R. Raghunath scored four goals via penalty corners.   -  M. Vedhan

Defending champion Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) survived a fright from a tenacious Air India before emerging triumphant 5-4 in a Pool-A contest of the 90th All-India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament here on Sunday. Earlier, in a Pool-B match devoid of action, Army XI managed to put it across Karnataka 2-1.

In an exciting Pool-B tie later in the evening, Gaganpreet Singh’s penalty corner strike at the death ensured Punjab & Sind Bank secured a 3-3 draw with ONGC.

IOC must thank its talisman and penalty corner specialist V. R. Raghunath, who scored four times — all through penalty corners — to give his team its second successive victory in the group.

Leading 3-1 at half-time and 4-2 midway in the second session, IOC was cruising along when Air India struck twice in as many minutes. First, through a wonderful deflection by Joga Singh and later by Vikram Pillay, who converted a stroke that resulted of a stick-check by S. K. Uthappa on Arjun Halappa.

After the equaliser, IOC went on the back-foot and it was Air India which started to call the shots. With Vinaya darting in from the right and with Halappa providing the passes, Air India penetrated IOC's defence more than the latter could.

Moreover, Air India had two penalty corners after the scores were even, but couldn’t convert any of them. Had it done so, it would have been a different picture altogether.

Smart play

It was here that Raghunath’s wide experience came in handy. The Olympian didn’t employ the usual drag flick technique which he used for his earlier three successful attempts. He did a little bit of jugglery and it paid dividends. The 30-year-old from Bangalore did a short dribble, turned around and effected a fine backhander that found the roof of the net.

With the victory over Karnataka, Army scripted its first win (from two matches) while Karnataka with two defeats from three matches is still in with a chance to qualify for the semifinals. Its last match against Indian Railways on September 7 will be crucial.

The Karnataka boys didn’t play with the usual flair they are normally associated with. Unimaginative in counter-attacks, the forward-line looked to have lost its sharpness and guile. Honnur Swamy, as he has done in earlier matches, put Karnataka ahead with a wonderful shot from the right.

The equaliser by Rajanish Salaria was a gem. With three defenders surrounding him, Rajanish took a few steps backwards and unleashed a backhander that hit the top of the roof. Forward Binoy Bhengara scored the match-winner in the 54th minute.

The results:

Pool-A: IOC 5 (V. R. Raghunath 3, 11, 47 & 65, Deepak Thakur 32) bt Air India 4 (Joga Singh 26 & 49, Gagandeep Singh 44, Vikram Pillay 51).

Pool-B: Army XI 2 (Rajanish Salaria 33, Binoy Bhengara 54) bt Karnataka 1 (Honnur Swamy 28); Punjab & Sind Bank 3 (Sarvanjit Singh 26, Ramandeep Singh 62, Gaganpreet Singh 70) drew with ONGC 3 (Gurvinder Singh 6, Gurjinder Singh 45, Diwakar Ram 60).