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Australia mauls Malaysia

By S. Thyagarajan

South Africa 1 India 0

Australia 7 Malaysia 1

SYDNEY, APRIL 25. Australia annihilated Malaysia 7-1 to claim the trophy in the second leg of the twin four-nation men's hockey challenge on a glorious sunny afternoon at the Olympic Park in front of a big Sunday crowd. Australia, which led 4-0 at half-time, had won the first edition too at Canberra last week, beating India.

Earlier, in a match that underscored the hesitant approach of the Indian team, South Africa had the last laugh, snatching a laboured but morale-boosting 1-0 victory, to finish third.

There was no doubt about the outcome of the final and only the margin remained in doubt. The match turned out to be a target practice for the home team.

On Saturday, Malaysia had gone down 5-1 and by a whopping 9-0 margin at Canberra. The Aussies scored 21 goals (with two against) in the three games against Malaysia in the two editions here.

The Aussie attack broke through whatever resistance Kuhen Shanmuganathan and his defence could put up. The early goal by Micheal Brennen opened the floodgates and soon Brennen helped Jaime Dwyer increase the lead. This was followed by Andrew Smith's stunning shot off a cross from Micheal Boyce.

Andrew Commens then converted a penalty corner after goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam had made a feeble save from Smith.

Malaysia's defining moment came shortly after the break. It was appropriate that Chua Boon Huat got the goal, as he was the only enterprising attacker in the squad. His immaculate deflection off a free hit by Shanmuganathan brought cheer to the Malaysians.

The Aussies, meanwhile, continued to bombard the rival citadel and Troy Elder pumped in a penalty corner. A lovely passing bout between Commens and Nathan Eglington culminated in the former slotting home the sixth goal.

Dwyer scored the seventh with a quarter of an hour left in the game but the Malaysians held on gamely to prevent any more goals.

Lack of motivation and mobility saw India slip to a rare defeat against the South Africans. Although the margin was narrow, the touch of assurance displayed by the South Africans stood pronounced.

With the frontline totally out of tune, there was nothing in the attack to breach the well-organised South African defence.

Arjun Halappa, usually the livewire in this area, was off-colour today, leaving the sharp shooters — Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur — clueless right through. Even the few attempts Gagan made were inadequate to overcome South Africa's stout defence.

Lacking in creativity

The Indian midfield strove manfully to keep up the tempo. The trio of Ignace Tirkey, Bimal Lakra and Viren Resquniha did a neat job with their interceptions. However, when it came to creativity — the breath word of the midfield — none of them was up to the mark.

Strangely, Viren and Sunil Yadav were used on the flanks and the work by substitute Jatinderpal was poor. Ignace, as the pivot with Bimal, turned out to be a bad experiment.

India missed a glorious chance when Arjun failed to connect a cross from Yadhav. This was the best moment of the first half for the Indians.

The substitute goalkeeper Francois du Plessis brought off a brilliant save to baulk an effort from Gagan Ajit Singh, providing the finishing touches to a move initiated by Bimal and developed well by Arjun. Plessis also stopped another wristy flick by Len Aiyappa off a penalty corner.

Ken Forbes' solid work in the defence stood out while Greg Nicol found the match-winner off a penalty corner, midway in the second half. Greg Clark repeatedly tested the Indian deep defence but Devesh Chauhan brought off a few good saves from the seven penalty corners the South Africans forced compared to three by India. One save off Greg Nicol late in the match was particularly impressive.

The way the team finished at the bottom of the table after beginning as the defending champion here should convince the Indian Hockey Federation top brass that the preparation for the Athens Olympics is on the wrong track.

The Australian sojourn should make the policy makers work overtime to set right the `grey areas' coach Rajinder Singh repeats and regrets about after every setback.

Interestingly enough, India and South Africa are in the same pool at Athens, unless the case of Greece in the Court of Arbitration goes against it. Maybe, the Indians will now pray for Greece getting a favourable verdict from the CAS!

Ms. Pam Tye, President, Hockey Australia, gave away the trophy.

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