Diwakar Ram in the spotlight

Diwakar Ram... talented drag-flicker.-SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The growing stature of Diwakar Ram was on show in the Asia Cup. He emerged the joint top-scorer, with nine goals, along with Korea’s enterprising Nyum Hun Woo. V. V. Subrahmanyam reports.

After the recent turmoil and controversy in the Indian hockey, there seems to be at least one player who is keen to make a lasting impression. He is Diwakar Ram, the drag-flicker, who made all the difference for the host and defending champion India in the sixth junior Asia Cup hockey championship, held in Hyderabad from July 11 to 18.

True to his form, Diwakar, who scored two goals in the final, turned out to be the golden boy for India. He was at his menacing best in the final against Korea with his now-familiar short-corner conversions.

The growing stature of this lad from Uttar Pradesh was on show in the Asia Cup. Diwakar emerged the joint-top-scorer, with nine goals, along with Korea’s enterprising Nyum Hun Woo.

He was mostly spot on when the situation demanded, with his execution of the penalty-corners.

“How many times we looked to him to come good and how well he responded each time,” said a delighted A. K. Bansal, chief coach, after India retained the trophy with a 3-2 win over Korea in an exciting final at the floodlit Gachibowli Complex.

No doubt, it was the collective brilliance of this young Indian side which came to the fore right from the start. There was never a doubt about India’s qualification for the knock-out phase. In fact, the Gurbaj Singh-led team achieved that in style from Pool ‘A’ winning all its three league matches.

This was possible due to the outstanding display upfront by Gurwinder Singh and S. V. Sunil and Roshan Minz and Ranjit Singh on the flanks. The captain himself was not far behind whenever the situation demanded. The forward line had the liberty to attack consistently because the defence, manned by custodian Sreejesh P. Raveendran, Diwakar Ram and Innocent Kullu, was formidable. Mandeep Antil, Pramod Kumar and Jagwant Singh were adept in swapping positions on the field, especially in the half-line, to provide the momentum.

The Indian players showed remarkable team spirit. To the delight of his team-mates and the chagrin of his opponents, Diwakar Ram rose to the occasion when it came to short corners and turned out to be the match-winner. This unobtrusive performer has been India’s leading scorer in the last five international events.

For India, the first big hurdle was against Pakistan in the semifinal. The neighbouring country had the experience, resilience and skills besides the presence of the athletic short-corner specialist Kashif Ali. Under pressure, India kept its cool once it took the lead in the 16th minute when Gurwinder Singh Chandi weaved his way into the striking zone with speed and skill to find the target.

There was some tension when Indian captain Gurbaj Singh was jostled by Kashif Ali and Muhammad Irfan. When the situation looked like going out of hand, Irfan was shown the yellow card amidst protests from the Pakistan camp.

Then Diwakar Ram converted a short-corner in the 38th minute on resumption. Pakistan reduced the margin through Kashif Ali following a penalty-corner in the 42nd minute. India hit back strongly within five minutes when Diwakar Ram scored again.

In the other semifinal, Korea expectedly got the better of Japan 4-2. Nam Hyun Woo scored all the four goals, all off penalty-corners. Woo was one player who made a telling impact in the championship apart from Diwakar Ram.

But the Indians were in for a surprise in the final. The Koreans dominated after taking the lead in the seventh minute through ever-reliable Nam Hyun Woo, who latched on to a short and quick pass from Lee Dong Hyun on the left of the ‘D’ to slam the ball in.

From then on, it was Koreans all the way. And thanks to the brilliance of the goalkeeper, Kim Jae Hyun, the team warded off a couple of good attempts by the Indian forwards. In the 16th minute, the ’keeper blocked a rasping hit from Gurwinder Singh and when Roshan tried to score off the deflection, Hyun was quick to react and stop it. And again when Chandi had a shy off the deflection, the Korean goalkeeper was equal to the task. Strangely, Diwakar wasted two penalty-corners in this phase.

The Koreans were unrelenting in the second session with captain Kim Seong Kyu and Kang Moon Kyu being exceptional in defence, keeping the Indian forwards at bay. And to the dismay of the Indian camp, the Korean forwards, Bae Jong Suk, Im Kyoung Ju, Kem Seong Kyu and Jeyon Byung Jin, were seen all over the Indian goalmouth. Not surprisingly, Korea had the second goal when the dangerous Nam Hyun Woon scored of a diving effort, picking up a lovely centre from Kim Seong Kyu on the left.

Then came the jolt for the Koreans. Its defender Jeong Byun Jim was shown the yellow card in the 57th minute for dangerous play. This reduced the team to 10 men on the field. And the host made a comeback with Gurwinder Singh and S. V. Sunil combining well. They had solid support from the flanks led by captain Gurbaj Singh and Ranjit Singh. Pramod Kumar in the half-line was exceptional.

S. V. Sunil showed the enterprise to latch on to a free-hit — after a splendid move down the left-flank by Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Diwakar Ram — and slipped it through the crowded Korean defence in the 59th minute.

The goal transformed the mood of the Indians who suddenly made the Korea team look ordinary. India gained a penalty-corner when a Korean defender committed a foul on the advancing S. V. Sunil. Diwakar was on target with a rasping hit (62nd minute) to level the scores 2-2.

With the teams locked 2-2 at full-time and extra-time, the golden goal rule was applied. The host attacked from the word go and a brilliant Gurwinder Singh Chandi dodged past a crowded defence on the left-flank when Jeong Yun Sang committed a foul on him. India earned its fourth-penalty corner. To the delight of the vociferous crowd, Diwakar Ram was spot on to script a golden finish.

Pakistan had the consolation of defeating Bangladesh 7-2 to settle for the bronze medal.

Special awards were given to Nam Hyun Woo of Korea and Diwakar Ram (top-scorers with nine goals each), Nam Hyun Woo (player of the tournament’), Sreejesh P. Raveendran of India (best goalkeeper) and Muhammad Sairulnizam Rahmat of Singapore (most promising player). The Fairplay Trophy was presented to Singapore.