Finest hour for Indian women

BILL COLWILL

Mamta Kharab (10) of India scores the Golden goal against England in the final. This goal was allowed only after an agonising wait of nearly an hour and a half.-AFP

INDIA'S Golden moment eventually came but only after an agonising wait of nearly an hour and a half after Mamta Kharab had scrambled the ball into the England goal following up Suman Bala's final penalty corner shot. India had broken the Australian monopoly of Commonwealth Games gold medals to win the women's title in Manchester in a game which ended in chaos and an embarrassing mix-up in which only hockey was the loser.

The victorious Indian team on the podium.-AP

Although India ran out deserved winners, 3-2, England had completely dominated the game throughout but were unable to turn possession into goals. After England had missed a stack of early chances, they were punished by the first of Mamta's goals when, as she did for the deciding goal, she followed up a Suman Bala's shot to put India ahead in the 21st minute. With just five minutes of the first half remaining, Sita Gussein increased India's lead through another corner.

England pulled a goal back on the stroke of half-time, as captain Sarah Blanks dived in to prod the ball home. India defended heroically against England's continued pressure in the second half, although they did concede the equaliser in the 45th minute, Jane Smith's shot being deflected into the goal by Helen Grant. India hung on to force extra-time and the controversial finish. With 10 seconds remaining to the first period of extra time India was awarded a penalty corner. The ball was scrambled over the line after the hooter. No signal for a goal from New Zealand umpire Lynn Farrell who only signalled the end of the half as the Indian players celebrated.

Jyoti Kullu of India scores the equaliser against New Zealand in the semi-final. India won 2-1.-AFP

England, agitated and bemused, made vociferous appeals to the umpire and their Australian coach Tricia Heberle decided on a formal protest. The Scottish Technical Delegate, Evlyn Raistrick, ruled against England who then briefly appealed against her decision, only to withdraw it in the interests of the "Friendly Games." Not the first time Tournament officials have proved inadequate. It was to be India's first ever victory against England and they could not have chosen a more important or prestigious occasion.

For the Indian team and officials who last month had been so dejected when they failed at Cannock to qualify for the World Cup in the play offs, it was a moment to savour. Coach Gurdial Bhangu commented:"I think the right decision had been taken. It will be a boost for women's hockey in India. When we played in the Four Nations tournament (also in Manchester) we played very well. We wanted to play England as it would be a friendly game which is why there were no yellow cards." He added: "Hopefully it will help us financially and focus attention on women's hockey in India and encourage more children to play the game."

India had come from behind to beat New Zealand 2-1 in their semifinals whilst England had dethroned Australia by the same score. Another unfortunate umpiring decision may have proven costly for India in this game when England umpire Dawn Henning, without blowing her whistle, decided that Jyoti Kullu had taken too long over a penalty stroke and gave the Kiwis a free hit as India were poised to go 2-1 ahead in the 58th minute.

This shot by Kate Walsh (19) of England beat the Australian goal-keeper in the other semi-final. England won 2-1.-AFP

India started their Pool games with a tentative 1-0 win against Canada before beating New Zealand first time round 3-0 finishing with a 1-1 draw against England. In their qualification final against South Africa, it was another Golden goal, this time from Suman Bala, whose penalty corner striking had been consistently good throughout the tournament, as they went on to win 4-3 in an incredible fightback.

Throughout the tournament, India had made few defensive errors and generally had starved their opponents of penalty corner opportunities. They had soaked up much pressure and counter attacked with flair and at speed. The exciting skills of Pritarm Siwach, Joyoti Sunita and especially Mamta had delighted the near capacity crowds at every game. If the home side was not to win Gold then India were the next popular.

Denied the presence of India in the men's competition, which brought its first day protest, there were few surprises except the uneven performance of Pakistan.

The triumphant Australian team.-AP

The Australians were outstanding throughout and deservedly retained their title.

Barry Dancer has blended together a young side of athletes with outstanding ability.

They started the men's competition with a 6-1 win against New Zealand and finished it with a 5-2 victory against their antipodes neighbours. In between they notched up 27 goals, conceding just three in their three games.

Pakistan began with a 3-0 defeat of the host nation, 3 penalty corner goals from Sohail Abbas and finished with a 10-2 win against South Africa to take the Bronze medal, Abbas claiming five goals.

The jubilant New Zealand players after walloping Pakistan 7-1 in the semi-final.-REUTERS

In between they struggled to beat Wales and Canada each 3-0 and were thrashed by New Zealand 7-1 in the semi-final. The disappointing form of England was difficult to explain and it could be the last time they will appear under coach Malcolm Wood.

The tournament organisation, the men's competition under the control of India's Muneer Sait, went like clockwork, and the presence of dignitaries, including the Queen and on two occasions Prince Andrew and wife Sophie, were unobtrusive and appreciated. Not so the Manchester rain, but then that was to be expected, but not so the heatwave of the first five days .