Hellen Innocent Mary plays lead role in India's victory

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The jubilant Indian women's hockey team which won the gold medal. — Pic. VINO JOHN-

DEVESH CHAUHAN'S exploits under the bar in the men's semi-finals against Malaysia may have come at the most appropriate time — a day before the women's final against South Africa. For, it was the turn of custodian Hellen Innocent Mary to play a lead role in helping India clinch the gold in women's hockey with a thrilling 5-3 win in a pulsating final at the magnificent Gachibowli hockey complex in the inaugural edition of the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad. It was a performance which might have startled the chief coach M.K.Kaushik himself as he was only "expecting a medal for having come here with a young team minus the experienced stars who were out either due to retirement or injuries."

India, the Manchester Commonwealth Games gold medallist, was really enterprising from the start as winger Surinder Kaur was seen all over the South African defence with admirable support from Adline Kerketta up front. The intentions were clear from the Indian camp as they were in an aggressive mood. But for poor finishing, it could have scored at least two goals before the half-time. The closest India came to scoring was when Jasjeet Kaur had a splendid run down the centre but was unfortunate to see Surinder fumble in front of an open goal in the 25th minute. The All-Africa Games gold medallist too had its moments of domination particularly, when Carlisle Coetze's close range attempt almost got the lead but for the alacrity of Hellen Innocent who was equal to the task.

That India could force only two penalty-corners while the rivals just one in the first-half was a reflection on the inability of the forwards to strike after initiating the moves. Consequently, the teams failed to break the deadlock at half time.

On resumption, it was South Africa which showed greater sense of urgency and shot into the lead in the 39th minute when Jennifer Wilson neatly deflected an indirect penalty-corner hit. Soon, Pietie Coetze had another splendid run down the centre only to see her fine backhand attempt hit the horizontal and go out. If the South Africans thought these moves would force the hosts to be on the defensive, they were mistaken. For India launched a series of counter-attacks with Chanu Sanggai, Jyoti Kullu and Adline Kerketta working in tandem. Apparently confident of the defence being in the safe hands of the goalkeeper, they had the liberty to attack regularly even as Jennifer Wilson, Kerry Bleu and Susan Webber were menacing from the other side. Consequently, India levelled the scores in the 52nd minute when Suman Bala converted a penalty-corner.

The Indians are overjoyed after Suman Bala (not in pic.) had scored the equaliser against South Africa in the final. -- Pic. VINO JOHN-

With the two teams tied one-all at the end of regulation time and even the extra time with `golden goal' rule failing to separate the two, tie-breaker rule was applied. This was the phase when pressure was really on Hellen. And she rose to the occasion to emerge the star of the evening, bringing off two smart saves against Pietie Coetze and Kotze Johke of South Africa for whom only Jennifer Wilson, Carlisle Lindsay and Susan Webber were on target. For the home team, Subadhra Pradhan failed while Jasjeet Kaur, Surinder Kaur, Jyoti Kullu, Chanu Sanggai were spot on, though the last one was really fortunate to see her feeble push roll into the right side of the goal. By all means, Hellen's brilliance triggered a wave of celebrations amongst the capacity crowd that watched the match under floodlights. Thus, it was also a sweet revenge for the 1-3 loss India suffered in the league match.

Earlier in the semi-final, India recorded a convincing 3-0 win over Korea thanks primarily to the brilliance of the dimunitive Chanu Sanggai who repeatedly made inroads into the rival defence with superb stickwork. India shot into the lead in the 32nd minute when Surinder Kaur scooped a rebound from the goalkeeper, who failed to block cleanly the penalty-corner hit taken by Suman Bala, into the goal. That was India's fifth penalty-corner compared to four by the rivals by that time. In the second session, the Koreans dominated thanks to the skillful Jin Ju Kim and Jong Eun Kim but it was the home team which scored as it took a 2-0 lead in the fifth minute when Suman Bala's penalty-corner hit was neatly deflected into the goal by Chanu Sanggai. For the visitors even had the misfortune of missing a `stroke' which Byoung Ju Sun failed to convert in the 20th minute.

India put the issue beyond doubt thanks to a splendid effort which started with Chanu Sanggai dribbling all the way close to the `D' on the left-flank to relay a through pass to Jasjeet Kaur who in turn deflected the ball to the waiting Jyoti Kullu who did the rest. That India earned 11 penalty-corners to Koreans' six was another proof that the home team was in control for most of the match.

In the other semi-final, South Africa blanked Asian Games gold medallist,China, though here with a virtual second string, as Johke Kornhofa, Webber Susan Mary (2) and Bee Kerry were the scorers.

Goalkeeper Hellen Innocent Mary brought about smart saves in the tie-breaker to ensure India's triumph over South Africa. -- Pic. VINO JOHN-

For the record India marched into the semi-final with a 8-0 win over Ghana, 1-3 loss to South Africa and a 9-0 win over Kazakhstan.

The results:

Final: India bt South Africa 5-4. Semi-finals: India bt South Korea 3-0; South Africa bt China 4-0.

For third place : Korea bt China 1-0. Fifth place : Kenya bt Kazakhstan 3-1; Seventh place: Ghana bt Nigeria 5-0.