Murugappa Cup: Defending champion IOC puts up five-star show

IOC drubbed a listless Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu 5-1 in a Pool-A clash while Railways, the reigning national champion, performed like a well-oiled machine as it scripted a 4-1 win over Army XI in Pool-B.

Vishwa Thakur (left) of Army and Jasjit singh of Indian Railways in action during the 90th All India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup Hockey tournament, at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in Chennai.   -  M. Vedhan

Defending champion Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Indian Railways couldn’t have asked for a better start to their campaigns in the 90th All-India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament here on Friday.

IOC drubbed a listless Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu 5-1 in a Pool-A clash while Railways, the reigning national champion, performed like a well-oiled machine as it scripted a 4-1 win over Army XI in Pool-B.

In the third and last match of the day, Air India scored its first win in two matches with a 3-0 triumph over Mumbai HA in a Pool-A contest.

There were no first-match jitters for Railways. The forwards, midfield and defence played as if they have played together for quite a long time. The team’s positional play was near-perfect. It made Army XI look like a mere spectator for the major part of the first session.

With the linkman Affan Yousuf providing the spark with his ear-splitting passes and exceptional stick-work, Railways raided the Army XI defence at will and each one of the former’s counter-attack had the stamp of authority and cohesion not seen so far in the tournament.

Railways scored the opening goal with Amit Rohidas finding the back of the net with a neatly-placed goal of a penalty corner.

Generally a plucky opponent, Army XI was placid in attack and defence. Except for a gilt-edged chance in the ninth minute when a B.P. Poovanna’s shot was cleared by the ‘keeper Jagaraj Singh, it had little else to offer.

The equaliser by Army XI off a penalty corner by Jonny Jasrotia did little to dispel the belief that it was playing against a well-settled team.

Railways only got better in the second half with Yousuf making some wonderful run-ins.

Soon, Talwinder Singh unleashed a forehander from the top of the circle to enlarge the lead and nearly 10 minutes later, Yousuf and Talwinder made a lovely 1-2 from the right before Yousuf pushed it home.

A hapless and dejected Army allowed things to drift further and Railways was glad to score its fourth after J. P. Kush converted a cross from the right to signal its arrival as a title-contender.

If Railways proved its class, Tamil Nadu in its match against IOC showed how much it has to travel to reach the level of top teams.

The first three goals came in a matter of 15 minutes and the match ended then and there. At half time, IOC led 4-0.

It was obvious that the boys were overawed by the aura of V. R. Raghunath, Kothajit and Prabhjot Singh.

India’s star V. R. Raghunath sounded the boards in the second minute with a perfect grounder off a penalty corner.

A long pass from Raghunath saw Prabhjot Singh deflecting it home and there effectively began IOC’s goal-glut.

A terrible defensive lapse resulted in the third goal. There was no one to mark Sanjay who had ample time to take a cross from the right to sweep one past the ‘keeper Arun Prasad.

Prabhjot only added to the agony of Tamil Nadu with a nice deflection. The second session saw TN putting a semblance of a fight, but it was a case of too little too late. Hassan Basha's lone goal meant little in the overall scheme of things.

The results:

Pool-A: IOC 5 (V. R. Raghunath 2, Sanjay 13, Prabhjot Singh 10 & 33, Deepak Thakur 50) bt HUTN 1 (Hassan Basha 45); Air India 3 (Arjun Sharma 27, Joga Singh 40, Osaf-ur-Rehman 46) bt Mumbai HA 0.

Pool-B: Indian Railways 4 (Amit Rohidas 30, Talwinder Singh 37, Affan Yousuf 44, J.P. Kush 55) bt Army XI 1 (Jonny Jasrotia 24).