A spirited performance by the Indian Men's Hockey Team helped them register a thrilling 5-4 win against Australia here at the magnificent Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in the FIH Hockey Pro League on Sunday.
Riding on their impressive 3-2 win against reigning World Champions Germany, Indian attack powered through each quarter setting up some mouth-watering goals against Australia. It was a hat-trick by Captain Harmanpreet Singh (14', 15', 56'), and a goal each by Jugraj Singh (18') and Selvam Karthi (26') that helped in India's victory while Joshua Beltz (3'), Ky Willott (43'), Ben Staines (53') and Aran Zalewski (57') scored for Australia.
It was an action-packed start to the match with the first quarter being fought fiercely by the two sides, totally entertaining the Rourkela hockey fans who had assembled in large numbers to back the home team. Australia, however, muted the home crowd's excitement early in the match when they scored in only the 3rd minute of the match. It was Joshua Beltz who waltz into the striking circle, beating the Indian defence to a fine goal.
The early setback, however, did not affect the home team's rhythm as they remained persistent in their attempt to create space in the striking circle. Dilpreet Singh, in one such attempt to drive into the circle created a PC for India. Harmanpreet, who had narrowly-missed the first chance to score off a PC, showed great character in perfectly executing this opportunity to equalise the score. Only a minute later, Abhishek set-up another PC for India and Harmanpreet scored in a similar fashion, keeping the ball low, finding the corner of the post.
Also read | Hockey World Cup: Would have been different if we had done better in 3rd-4th quarters against New Zealand, says Harmanpreet
Only 16 seconds into the second quarter, Australia staged a comeback with a PC but young goalie Pawan was on the mark to pad away Anand Gupte's effort. Three minutes into the second quarter, the immensely talented S Karthi put India ahead when he attempted a scoring opportunity and ended up winning India a penalty stroke. Taking the strike, Jugraj Singh made no mistake in putting it past Australian goalie Benjamin Rennie.
In total control of the proceedings, India continued to surge ahead, clinically building on their attack. It was Karthi again in the forwardline who grabbed the limelight with a brilliant goal in the 26th minute, putting India ahead by a formidable 4-1 lead. He picked up a fine assist by Sukhjeet Singh in the midfield, controlled the ball well enough to penetrate the top of the circle and take a successful shot on goal.
The third quarter saw Australia determined to narrow the lead. They created PCs but eventually scored a field goal by Ky Willott. With about 10 minutes left for the final hooter, Sukhjeet helped India win a PC but the chance went begging with a mix-up in execution. Australia, who were on a comeback trail, made no such error when they won a PC in the 53rd minute, it was put away rather splendidly by Ben Staines. With the scoreline down to 4-3, India really had to work hard to keep the lead and not allow the game to go into shootout.
Pawan, guarding the post, did well to block away potential chances created by the visitors. With a little less than five minutes for end of play, India won a PC, thanks to the skilful work of Hardik and Vishnukant. Showing just why he is a class apart; Harmanpreet Singh was brilliant with his dragflick to put India ahead by 5-3. But Australia, never to be taken lightly, bounced back with their fourth goal in the 57th minute. It was a PC rebound picked up by Aran Zalewski.
Also read | Harmanpreet to lead team as Hockey India announces squad for World Cup
Indian fans were on the edge-of-their seats as the last few minutes was nerve-wrecking. It didn't help with Australia earning a PC in the 59th minute. However, India's first rusher Manpreet did well to block the dragflick but having lost the ball possession, Australia won another PC. Thankfully though, the Indian PC defence held their nerves to deny Australia an equaliser.
This was India's fourth outright win in six matches in the 2022/23 season of the FIH Hockey Pro League.
They had begun this season of the prestigious league with a 4-3 and 7-4 win against New Zealand followed by a 2-3 loss and 2-2 (3-1 SO) win against Spain in the home games played in October-November last year.