Murugappa Cup: Railways edges out BPCL to set up IOC final

Indian Railways scored a 3-2 win over BPCL the semifinal of the All-India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament in Chennai on Saturday. In the first semifinal, IOC defeated ONGC 4-2

Murugappa hockey tournament, IOC v ONGC semifinal

Deepak Thakur (blue jersey) scores IOC's first goal against ONGC at the 90th All India MCC Murugappa Golad Cup Hockey Tournament on Saturday.   -  R. Ragu

Each one of Indian Railways’ seven penalty corners against BPCL in the semifinals of the 90th All-India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament turned out to be duds.

With seconds remaining for the hooter, Railways earned its eighth and last penalty corner. For those who watched Railways mess up its half-a-dozen-or so corners, this one didn’t inspire a wee bit of confidence. A shootout looked the only possible outcome.

Railways’ skipper Gurpreet Singh, however, had other plans. His drag-flick sounded the board for a sensational 3-2 triumph. The come-from-behind win took Railways to the final of the tournament after a decade.

Earlier, in the other last-four clash, defending champion IOC overcame ONGC 4-2. The summit clash will be played on Sunday.

After a lacklustre semifinal between IOC and ONGC, which dulled the proceedings considerably, it was the Railways-BPCL clash that made the day for those who had thronged the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium on Saturday.

Without a doubt, BPCL looked the better team in the first session.

Its forwards showed purpose with S.V. Sunil, Amir Khan and Lalit Kumar making repeated raids. Few minutes into the first session, Amir Khan’s grounder gave BPCL the lead. The second goal for BPCL was well-conceived. Tushar Khandekar, the schemer, pushed one from the middle. Once Sunil trapped it, he weaved past two defenders, bent down to shoot a backhander home for a 2-0 lead.

Railways found its mojo in the second session. If Railways had to thank anybody other than Gurpreet, it had to be Affan Yousuf. The forward was tireless and was the one creating havoc in the circle with his speed and anticipation. His backhander from the top of the circle hit the board, without touching a sea of defenders. That goal really provided the push for the National champion.

Of Railways' six penalty corners in the second half, three were earned by Yousuf. Stanli Minz deflected home a powerful sweep by Jasjit Singh for the equaliser. It set the stage for Gurpreet and he didn't disappoint.

The IOC-ONGC clash was slow-paced with the forwards of both teams lacking in speed and imagination. IOC took the lead early through Deepak Thakur. A good 1-2 from the right from S.K. Uthappa and Roshan Minz saw the latter’s cross being deflected home by the former International.

IOC made it 2-0 through Raghunath’s penalty corner conversion. His strike found the right corner of the 'keeper Dinesh Ekka. ONGC forwards, who came a cropper in the first half, struck in the second half through Mandeep Antil and Gurvinder Chandi.

Mandeep reduced the margin by pushing one to the roof of the net in a counter-attack. IOC attacked relentlessly but it was ONGC which equalised thanks to a poor clearance by Raghunath. Gurvinder made the most of it by unleashing a forehander home from the top of the circle.

What ONGC dreaded came true as Raghunath got another chance for a penalty corner. This time, he didn’t go for the usual drag-flick. The push was received by Vikram Kanth instead of Raghunath which took ONGC by surprise. Vikram then passed it back to Raghunath who inched forward to slot it home.

One of IOC's several counter-attacks saw Sanjay use his speed to unleash a backhander to make it 4-2.

The results (semifinals): Indian Railways 3 (Affan Yousuf 43, Stanli Minz 54, Gurpreet Singh 70) bt BPCL 2 (Amir Khan 2, S.V. Sunil 21); IOC 4 (Deepak Thakur 4, V.R. Raghunath 25 & 53, Sanjay 58) bt ONGC 2 (Mandeep Antil 36, Gurvinder Chandi 45).