With team sheets rejigged, younger legs introduced, close games against better opposition providing a mirage-like effect, it was up to Ireland, a team ranked four places below India at tenth to give us a lesson in realism. To say that Ireland's 3-2 victory was an aberration would be showing them disrespect. And giving India's young legs the credibility they didn't deserve.
Rankings kept away, the Indian team plays intense and a trunkful of matches through the year to understand the difference between a gritty and fluent win. Against hosts Malaysia, India's 5-1 win had set up all the melodrama of a possible final and in the worst case, a bronze medal play-off. In that context, coming into a fifth match in the tournament, India should have understood the nuances of a win, flowing or scratchy was not the question; as with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
File image of the Indian hockey team in action at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Image courtesy: Twitter/@TheHockeyIndia
India's start didn't give anybody a peek into what would follow. They played through the middle, cut the ball in, stretched the flanks and made the Irish defence probably imagine a four-quarter match of constant defending. India's aerial deliveries started early as Shilanand Lakra, Sumit Kumar and Gurjant Singh trapped immaculately. Moving skilfully, the Indians were showing glimpses of settling in early and picking at the Irish defence. And when India got its first penalty corner in the 10th minute, things looked on track.
Varun Kumar fired it low and Ramandeep Singh, also the man who pushed, dived and deflected it in. It was a wonderful indirect penalty corner, which lifts the team that creates it and completely destroys the opposition defence. And when India got its second penalty corner, the flick sent wide off the post didn’t frustrate many. It was still the first quarter. And India looked like building.
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