Punjab, Haryana bag golds

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The victorious Punjab men's team.-P. V. SIVAKUMAR

OLYMPIAN and coach Pargat Singh was spot on when he remarked at the end of the final: "Well, I was really unhappy with the way my team was playing till today. But in the final, they played exactly how I wanted.'' Truly, Punjab, packed with eight Olympians, did not really demolish the opposition as it should have, but more importantly rose to the occasion on the big day with a thoroughly, professional display to outplay Dhanraj Pillay-led Maharashtra 3-1 and pick the coveted gold in men's hockey.

Haryana drubbed a disjointed Jharkhand 4-0 in the women's final.

The men's final was a wonderful display of speed, robust play and skill from Punjab which proved to be too much for Maharashtra. By ensuring that the mercurial Dhanraj Pillay was effectively marked by Jugraj Singh and Baljit Singh Saini, the star-studded Punjab virtually won half-the-battle before it actually got over. The way captain Baljit Singh Dhillon led from the front with excellent support from schemer Parminder Singh and the speedy Daljit Singh on the left flank, it could have made quite a few youngsters learn what it is all about creating moves from nowhere.

A sixth minute, penalty-corner conversion by Kawalpreet Singh put Punjab ahead and after that it rarely looked back, completely in control of the proceedings. That Dhanraj Pillay had a close look at the goal only thrice in the entire match was itself a tribute to the efficacy of the defence. Within a minute into the second session, Punjab stunned the rival camp with Ajitpal Singh latching on to a rebound from the custodian, Arun Gurung, off a hard-hit from Gagan Ajit Singh from close range to find the target. Only a wonderful variation in penalty-corner saw Maharashtra score its only goal in the 45th minute to reduce the margin. When Girish Pimpale took the push-in, Dhanraj Pillay quickly relayed the ball back to him, who side-stepped on the right of the circle to execute a carpet drive from acute angle. This was the only class effort from Maharashtra which was otherwise on the defensive for most of the contest. On the other hand Punjab netted the third goal when Gagan Ajit Singh slammed a perfect centre from the right flank by Prabhdeep Singh in the 49th minute to virtually seal the rivals' fate. Though Pondali Bellary, Prabodh Tirkey and Vikram Pillay did combine well with some real good moves, they were thwarted well beyond the striking circle.

The Haryana side which claimed the women's gold.-P. V. SIVAKUMAR

Earlier, Services scored a 4-1 win over Karnataka to settle for bronze with Ajay Kumar netting twice and Cyprian Aind and Ignatius Tirkey once each for the winners while, Anup Antony reduced the margin.

Incidentally, Maharashtra recorded a 4-1 win over defending champions, Services, via tie-breaker in a lacklustre contest in which Dhanraj Pillay was clearly off-colour in the first-half. Only when he along with the imaginative Shanta Kumar and Prabodh Tirkey on the flanks worked in tandem in the second stanza, Maharashtra looked a better side. On the other hand, Services forwardline of captain Kamal Horo, Lokande and Paramjit Singh rarely displayed the desired vigour and thrust up front. With the teams failing to resolve the deadlock at the end of regulation time and extra-time, tie-breaker was applied. Strangely, Services put itself in poor light with a weak-hearted show as both Lokande with his first hit and Cyprian Aind ended with feeble hits which the goalkeeper had no difficulty in stopping. Only Balbir Singh was successful for Services while, Vikram Pillay, Prabodh Tirkey, Anand Sondkar and Asad Khan were successful for the winners.

In another semi-final, Punjab recorded a solitary goal win over a fighting Karnataka with the match-winner coming through Kawalpreet Singh, who converted a penalty-corner in the very first minute of the match. Though Arjun Hallappa, Vinay and A. K. Kavin did come up with some pleasing moves, the obduracy of Jugraj Singh and Kanwalpreet Singh was to the fore again for Punjab in the defence.

The women's final was one-sided with defending champion, Haryana, thriving on the experience and class of international Mamatha Kharub. Surprisingly, Jharkhand failed to make any impact in the big match contrary to its impressive run upto the final. The only consolation being not to allow Haryana score any goal in the first-half of the final. To the chagrin of Jharkhand, Mamatha found an admirable foil in Jasjeet, who scored the first two goals in the 51st and 63th minutes with fine solo efforts. Then Mamatha was in the scoring act to place the deflection of the goalkeeper Marita into the goal within a minute. Seven minutes later, Mamatha dribbled her way right ito the striking circle before unleashing a crisp drive into the goal to trigger off celebrations in her camp.

Maharashtra women settled for bronze defeating Chandigarh 2-0 with Nishi and Pakpi Devi being the scorers.

In the semi-finals, Haryana defeated Maharashtra 3-1 with a superior all-round game as the forwardline of Simarjeet, Meenakshi and Balwinder showed the required cohesion while, the defence of Sandeep Kaur and Rajwinder was equal to the task. Though Maharashtra shot into lead in the 15th minute through a penalty-corner conversion through Anu Sondkar, Haryana later struck thrice with Suman Bala netting two goals and Mamatha Kharub scoring once.

Jharkhand, which finished fourth in the last edition, did well to dictate terms to Chandigarh for a 2-0 win with the combination of Amrita Minz, captain and schemer Masira Suren and Adline Kerketta repeatedly testing the rival defence. A splendid solo effort from Adline Kerketta, who slipped into the striking circle all alone from the half-line, before essaying a delectable carpet drive in the 33rd minute being the highlight of the victory.

On the whole for the hosts, this National Games was as forgettable as the previous editions. The women's team led by Nidhi Mukesh, wife of triple Olympian Mukesh Kumar, who incidentally captained the men's team, suffered three straight defeats. However, Mukesh Kumar played a key role helping Johnson Ekka record a hat-trick to guide Andhra to a comfortable 4-1 win over West Bengal, and then saw his team hold Maharashtra to a one-all draw. The second match saw the best goal of the tournament when Dhanraj Pillay scored the equaliser, after Mukesh put the home team early in the third minute. The Maharashtra captain dribbled his way down the right flank and then in a flash switched to the other side leaving the entire defence on the right side bemused before essaying an amazing reverse flick from the top of the circle to beat the 1996 Olympian and custodian Edward Alloysius all ends up. In the third match, Andhra needed a draw against Karnataka to qualify for the knock-out phase. Just when it looked it was through, Andhra conceded a penalty-corner in the dying seconds of the game after the scores were tied 2-all. This saw Ronald Kiran convert it to leave the hosts despondent on the field. A dismal show considering the fact that Andhra had four internationals — Indian captain Dilip Tirkey, Bimal Lakra, Samir Dad and Rajiv Mishra. Well, there were even official protests from Karnataka and Maharashtra against the inclusion of these players.