Haryana clinches gold

Published : Dec 15, 2001 00:00 IST


ON paper, Maharashtra had an enviable line-up, at heart Punjab was the favourite and on experience Haryana weathered many challenges.

Big wins always eluded Haryana for various reasons. Six senior Haryana players were busy settling their families during the 1999 Manipur Games while its key players represented the indomitable Railways in the National championship.

This time, with the house settled, everyone was available to shoulder the responsibility. And, though nobody wrote the team off, Haryana suffered an unconvincing loss in the league phase of the National Games women's hockey competition against Jharkhand.

Setting all such worries aside, Haryana won the gold medal beating Maharashtra 2-0 in the final. Punjab won the bronze medal edging past Chandigarh 4-2 in the third-place play-off.

Former India captain Pritam Rani Siwach first announced her comeback and then celebrated her inclusion in the national camp in true style by scoring the winning goal in Haryana's triumph. Her compatriot Surinder Kaur was as sharp as ever. The Maharashtra forwardline of Pakpi Devi, Suraj Lata, Sanggai Ibemhal Chanu and Mamta Kharab remained fearsome until the final against Haryana.

For the Indian women's hockey, the National Games presented a good fare. The competition was worthwhile to watch with all except one international, Agnecia Lugun, in action.

It was a meeting of the top eight teams in the business - an occasion that the Indian Women's Hockey Federation (IWHF) should have utilised to scout for new talent.

The last time such an occasion came about was at the Nationals, held in Jamshedpur in January 2000. A yawning gap since such a gathering of players, young and experienced, in one city. What if the IWHF had been struggling to find a sponsor for the next edition of the National championship, this was the right chance.

But, except for one national selector, Rajbir Kaur, no one had the time to watch the girls play. The IWHF secretary, Ms. Amrit Bose, was present for a few days during the league stage before she rushed to Brussels for an FIH meeting.

Midway through the event, the IWHF announced 28 probables for the senior coaching camp to be held in Bangalore. It would have been prudent had the selectors spent enough time to witness the performance of the young players.

There were not many surprises among the probables, but a few deserving players missed out on a chance to get a look in, for the National camp. Forwards Sabu Anjum, Nishi Chauhan and Prakash Chaudhary of Chandigarh and Meenakshi of Uttar Pradesh represented the emerging talent.

While the Chandigarh girls, in due time, may get the nod, for Meenakshi the Games may probably spell the end of the road. The daring striker unfortunately got into a controversy when she decided to challenge a goal given by referee Helen Soy.

Things went astray and the technical bench scratched Uttar Pradesh from the competition owing to the team's refusal to take the field after Meenakshi was shown the red card in a league match against Punjab. Going by the conduct rules, Meenakshi's outbursts and the entire U.P. team's refusal to get on with the match called for some punishment, and it was meted out instantly.

There was another side to the story, which the IWHF would not like to discuss. If Meenakshi erred in her conduct, Helen Soy was equally at fault as she failed to carry out her duty when it actually warranted.

Punjab was leading 1-0 until the last minute of the first half when U.P. equalised through the outstanding right winger Meenakshi. On changing ends, Punjab went into the offensive and carried out several raids. During one such operation, Harmanpreet Kaur took a hit from outside the scoring circle. The ball went past the goal line into the post without any deflection. As the U.P. players relaxed for obvious reasons, Punjab thought that the ball was still in play, fought for its control and finally Rajwinder Kaur 'officially' scored the goal.

Even as the U.P. players insisted that the ball went out of play, the referee Helen was nonchalant. Meenakshi was in the forefront to question the referee as her teammates jostled with her. Then the U.P. team walked out. These were two occasions for the referee to exercise her right, but she did not. And, by the time the officials persuaded U.P. to resume the match, the other referee, Madhu Yadav, gave instructions to Helen.

As soon as U.P. re-started the match from the centre-line, Helen whistled and flashed the red card to Meenakshi. U.P. protested, left the field for the second time and it was consigned to the record books. Punjab was declared a 2-1 winner.

For her conduct, Helen Soy received support from the technical bench, which insisted that she was right throughout. In defence of the referee, the excuse for Helen not showing the red card to Meenakshi at the first instance was that the U.P. players did not allow her to remove the card from her pocket.

Then the IWHF must explain why Helen was not allowed to referee any further in the competition.

The Punjab organisers were also not behind in letting things out of control. The eight teams for the competition were selected on the basis of the standings in the last Nationals.

If Mumbai could not participate in the National Games, Maharashtra was sensibly chalked in. But, as regards Bihar, which had lost all its players to Jharkhand after the State was divided, no pragmatic decision was taken. Bihar was allowed to field its team while Jharkhand fended for its inclusion. On the eve of the competition, the organisers accepted Jharkhand's appeal and made it a nine-team event.

Yet, after a long time, good competition was witnessed. With the Railways players spread out, the States had the chance to flaunt their 'actual' strength.

There were a few one-sided matches though, Haryana thrashing Bihar 13-0; Jharkhand piling on Bihar's misery 10-0; Maharashtra decimating Manipur 13-0 and Chandigarh completing Bihar's devastation with a 12-0 win.

Nonetheless, Chandigarh's 4-2 win over Jharkhand and Haryana's 0-2 loss to Jharkhand were the matches worth to watch apart from some regular wins by Maharashtra and Haryana.

Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Maharashtra made it to the semifinals.

In a high-velocity match between Haryana and Punjab, the visitor scored over the host 4-2. The scorers were Pritam, Surinder, former international Kamala Dalal and Suman Bala. For Punjab Jyoti Sunita Kullu and Amandeep Kaur Sr. netted the goals.

In the other semifinal, though the scoreline - 4-1 in favour of Maharashtra - suggested a one-sided affair, Chandigarh provided a good fight. Maharashtra, flaunting virtually the India strikers in Sanggai, Pakpi, Mamta and Suraj Lata, gave very little room to Chandigarh to manoeuvre. While Mamta and Pakpi completed a brace, Prakash Chaudhary scored for the loser.

The final, however, never rose to the heights it was expected to. It still brought out the best in Pritam.

The upset against Jharkhand had Haryana rethink on its strategy while the all-conquering Maharashtra buried itself in the complacency.

Pritam took control of the situation as soon as she got the ball and put Maharashtra on the backfoot. Haryana defenders Suman Bala, Sita Gussain and Gurpreet Kaur foiled every raid. They drew confidence from the fact that Haryana had taken a 2-0 winning lead through Suman and Pritam.

That made Pritam the top-scorer of the competition with nine goals. Chandigarh's Prakash Choudhary (8) and Sanggai Chanu (7) were second and third respectively.

Haryana had settled for the runner-up position in both the 1999 Games and the Nationals, while Maharashtra was the defending champion.

The results:

Final: Haryana 2 (Suman Bala, Pritam Rani Siwach) beat Maharashtra 0.

For third-place: Punjab 4 (Jyoti Sunita Kullu 3, Amandeep Kaur Sr.) beat Chandigarh 2 (Saba Anjum 2).

Semifinals: Haryana 4 (Surinder Kaur, Suman Bala, Kamala Dalal, Pritam Rani Siwach) beat Punjab 2 (Amandeep Kaur Sr., Jyoti Sunita Kullu); Maharashtra 4 (Mamta Kharab 2, Pakpi Devi 2) beat Chandigarh 1 (Prakash Chaudhary).

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