BSF regains Beighton Cup

BORDER SECURITY FORCE (BSF), Jalandhar regained the Beighton Cup after a gap of four years. The paramilitary team triumphed in style in the 108th edition, with a fine show of technique and efficiency on grass beating the highly rated sponsor's team — Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) — 3-0 in the final at the Mohun Began ground in Kolkata. This was the fifth time BSF had lifted the title.

The tournament, played in the knockout-league-knockout format, saw 14 outstation teams and an equal number of local outfits. IOC, under its articulate coach Ajay K. Bansal, came out as the most talented outfit of the meet. Bansal, also the director and chief coach of the Air India National Hockey Academy in New Delhi, has helped IOC recruit a lot of his wards. The team sported a number of junior and senior internationals, Devesh Chauhan, Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh and Viren among others, and impressed all with its cohesive approach and attacking game, before moving into the finals upsetting big names such as the defending champion Punjab Police and former titlist Punjab and Sindh Bank (PSB). On the other hand, BSF kept a low profile and entered the semifinals as the second placed team in the quarterfinal group league. The quarterfinal league had eight teams; four seeded — defending champion Punjab Police, PSB, Indian Oil and Air India and the other four qualifying from the preliminary knockouts — last year's runner-up Central reserve Police Force, Army XI, Bombay XI and BSF.

The quarterfinals saw the hierarchy being defied by the relative upstarts. The upsets mostly happened in Group B, which had Punjab Police, IOC, Army XI and Bombay XI. IOC put up an inspired performance, beating Punjab Police 1-0 in the last league match. The result had the latter crashing unceremoniously out of the tournament. Army XI had compounded the police team's problems, holding the latter 3-3 on the second day of the league. These two results stood out helping both the teams find their passage to the last-four stage. Army XI beat IOC after the two had plundered Bombay XI, to become group B topper with seven points from two wins and a draw, while IOC took the second spot with six points from two wins and a loss. Punjab Police, with four points from a win, a draw and a loss, and Bombay XI, losing all its matches, finished at the bottom end of the group.

PSB justified the hierarchy by topping Group A. It remained undefeated and netted seven points from two wins and a draw (against Air India 2-2) to finish ahead of BSF. The bordermen, who lost 1-2 to PSB, beat last year's runner-up CRPF in the last group league encounter 2-1 to win the second match of the quarterfinal and ensure a passage to the semifinals. CRPF, with three points, and Air India, managing just one point, exited from the group.

In the semifinals, IOC continued its march forward disposing of PSB 5-4 via the tie-breaker, while BSF too had to avail the route via penalties to get past Army XI 5-3 in the other match to decide the title aspirants. Playing against the favourite PSB, IOC scored early as Kamlesh Kumar converted a penalty corner in the 24th minute, which set the tune of the contest. IOC fell back to defending in the second session and that helped PSB make a comeback. Sharanjeet Singh converted a penalty corner in the 54th minute, fetching the equaliser. The 1-1 deadlock ensured both the regulation and the 15 minutes of extra time forcing the tie-breakers. The penalties again favoured IOC as PSB paid heavily for a missed chance by Sharanjit Singh.

On the other hand IOC saw all the attempts finding the target and wrapped up the match 6-5. The other semifinal too saw BSW, the eventual finalist, going into an early lead. Christopher Ekka scored from a penalty corner in the fifth minute to give BSF the precious lead. Thereafter Army XI attacked relentlessly but failed to equalise till a few minute before the hooter as Avtar Singh found the target in the 63rd minute. The armymen cut a sorry figure failing to utilise any of the 16 penalty corners they earned in the match.

After the regulation and extra-time had the deadlock continuing, the BSF players made no mistake converting all the attempts in the tie-breaker. Army XI saw its shooting problems continuing in the tie-breakers and was thus forced to concede a 2-4 defeat.

The final saw a good contrast of youth and experience. IOC excelled in exuberance but not in application and had to surrender to BSF, which found its cautious approach paying the dividends. The oilmen played a pacy game and made numerous openings but the goal remained elusive as the finishing looked scratchy.

On the other hand, BSF gained from the diffidence in the opponent ranks and found the target on three occasions. Christopher Ekka showed his knack for converting penalty corners as he scored off the first such opportunity in the 23rd minute. Sushil Kujur, another tribal recruit from Orissa, enhanced the lead following the interval scoring in the 59th minute. BSF captain Harbhajan Singh rounded off the scoring in the 63rd minute. Going by the number of penalty corners, IOC commanded the greater share of the exchanges earning six, while BSF managed only two but scored from the very first one coming its way. IOC's international combine of Prabhjot Singh, Dipak Thakur and Lakhwinder Singh, looked incisive in the midfield but lost possession once the ball entered the striking area. The Delhi team could well have been up a goal in the very first minute but Thakur's shot following the team's first penalty corner came off the framework. Working on the lead gained in the first session, BSF enhanced the tally in the 59th minute as Harbhajan Singh ran up unchallenged from the left before taking a crack at the goal. Sushil Kujur, lurking near the goalmouth, ensured the ball hit the target with a final deflection. The BSF captain scored the last goal himself as a Devinder Kumar provision reached him in the 63rd minute.

IOC forward Prabhjot Singh, who was very prominent with his stick-work and dribbling abilities all through the match, was rightly declared the man-of-the final and received Rs. 10,000 for his efforts. BSF bagged the winner's purse of Rs. 1,25,000 while IOC earned Rs. 75,000 as the runner-up.

The results:

Final: BSF 3 Christopher Ekka (23rd), Sushil Kujur (59th), Harbhajan Singh (63rd) bt IOC 0.

Semifinals: IOC 6 (1) bt PSB 5 (1) via the tie-breaker; BSF 5 (1) bt Army XI 3 (1) via the tie-breaker.

— Amitabha Das Sharma