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India struggles to down Malaysia

Rakesh Rao

ON THE MOVE: Saba Anjum, who had a decent game, dribbles past Malaysian defenders.

NEW DELHI: India produced a disappointing brand of hockey on way to a painstaking 2-1 victory over Malaysia in the opening match of the 7th Indira Gandhi International Gold Cup hockey tournament for women at the National Stadium here on Saturday.

The host, expected to register an authoritative victory over the weakest team in the five-nation competition, wasted a penalty-stroke and scored only once from eight penalty corners. Some credit is certainly due to the Malaysian defence that thwarted the Indian forwards and repeatedly forced them to err.

On the brighter side, Saba Anjum scored both the goals for India in the first half during which the host forced five penalty corners.

In the sixth minute, after a move initiated by Mamta Kharab from the right flank, Jasjeet Kaur relayed the ball to Saba who scored off the second attempt after goalkeeper Enrnawati Mahmud palmed the first shot.

For Malaysia, captain Morfaraha Hashim converted the first penalty corner to make it 1-1 in the 22nd minute.

Two minutes later, Saba scored following India's fourth penalty corner.

It may be recalled that when the two teams had met during the recent four-nation tournament in Singapore, the result had been 3-3.

If India failed to translate its superiority into goals, it was due to some poor finishing. Forward Jasjeet Kaur, whose wayward scoop saw India muff-up a `stroke' in the 56th minute, looked good in patches but not good enough when it came to scoring.

Chances missed

Saba Anjum could have completed a hat-trick but missed a couple of easy chances during the goalless second half. The other forwards, like Simarjeet Kaur, Mamta Kharab and Adeline Kerketta contributed their bit by earning penalty corners. However, Kanti Baa, Subhadra Pradhan and Jasjeet lacked imagination when it came to foiling the defensive wall of the Malaysians.

Malaysian defenders Noor Hasliza Mohammad Ali, Zalina Mohammad Zahid and Siti Noor Ruhani did a fine job. Unlike the Indians, they did not hold the ball for long and concentrated on one-touch clearances.

In the face of such a resilient defence, India's best chance to enhance its lead came when it earned a penalty stroke when Saba Keri sat on the ball and foiled an attempt at the goal by Mamta. However, Jasjeet scooped the ball over the bar.

"How can we be satisfied with such a victory?" said India's coach M. K. Kaushik after the match and continued, "Our girls got excited and panicked when they were in a position to score. It's not good. We also have to improve our conversion of penalty corners. Whatever we had planned during the preparatory camp did not work today."

Kaushik was all praise for the Malaysian defence and said, "It has surely improved under coach C. R. Kumar."

Kumar, a former assistant coach to India's ex-National coaches Cedric D'Souza and V. Baskaran, had reasons to be pleased after restricting India's victory margin. "I am very happy with the result. We played the best possible we could. It was clear that our defence was solid. The Indian attack was good but their execution of penalty corners is certainly a problem area," he said.

India plays Italy before the much-awaited Australia-New Zealand clash on Sunday.

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