Apart from paving the way to identifying two more qualifiers - BPCL and Army the programme on Wednesday in the MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament provided an entertaining fare, what with Air India, the defending champion, and Karnataka, both out of the reckoning, figuring in a pulsating 3-3 draw.

When BPCL pitched its place in the last four along with ONGC in Pool A, the tie between Air India and Karnataka was only of academic interest. Yet the teams made it such a lively affair, with the final verdict hanging in the balance till the dying minutes.

That Air India fought back after trailing 0-2 in the first quarter to finish the day with honours even conveys the intensity of the contest, especially in the second half.

Impeccable dribbler

Prompted well by the impeccable dribbler Anup Antony, the Karnataka attack gained ascendancy thanks largely to the impetus provided by the penalty corner strike by Navin Shekar.

Smarting under the pressure of the Karnataka sallies, Air India struggled to organise itself in the zone. Midway through Anup Antony helped Mudappa increase the lead. At that point everything was in a shambles for Air India.

Before the half-time bell came the penalty corner goal by Bimal Lakra, and this injected an element of verve to Air India. Savouring this moment after the resumption also, Air India restored parity when Vinod Pillay slotted after goal-keeper Tamanna stopped a flick by Sameer Dad.

On equal footing from then on, the contest moved to a different pitch with moves emanating swiftly from both ends. Karnataka wrested the edge and this was symbolised by a beautiful loping run by Aiyappa whose pass ended with Mudappa hitting the roof of the net.

Indications of tension gripping the contest were evident when players began remonstrating to the decision of the umpire. V.S. Vinay paid the penalty with a yellow card.

The whip hand

Karnataka held the whip hand with Somanna making a few solo runs giving a tough time for the Air India defence but in the final minutes the tide changed when a shot by Walmiki crashed into the defender, Shekar. Ajmer Singh converted the resultant penalty stroke.

Army needed only a draw against Mumbai but the team went one better to finish its schedule in Pool B with a tally of nine points, to be the second team under IOC.

Initially, there was noticeable flourish in the workouts by the Mumbai attack. Monish Rana and Irfan Mirza threw an intriguing web around the Army defence which was forced to look up to goal-keeper P.T. Rao to come up with a few smart saves.

However, Tyrone Pereira put Mumbai ahead with a whiplash of a shot from a cross by Rana.

Progressively, Army assembled its resources well to enforce a visible pressure on Mumbai. Veteran Ignace Tirkey was the base of the Army’s moves.

And Ignace it was who procured the equaliser with a swift run in and close on half-time came the lead when Mundu tapped the ball in from a melee that followed a penalty corner.

In the second half, Army maintained the territorial advantage and added one more when Rajesh Lakra smashed one into the boards from a penalty corner. Mumbai finished its programme without a point.

Steady pressure

Indian Overseas Bank succumbed to the steady pressure exerted by the more competent BPCL by two goals without reply in a pool A match.

The eclipse of the local league champion, IOB, with a solitary point, belied all expectations. More than the reverses, what anguished supporters was the meek submission to more renowned opponents, especially after the promising start — a 2-2 draw against Karnataka.

After conceding a goal in the fourth minute to Amar Aiyamma, IOB was never in the fight against BPCL which struck again in the first half through a perfect penalty corner by Prabhdeep Singh.

The only point of interest left is who among the two, ONGC and BPCL, will top the pool A. The teams come to grips on Thursday in the last league encounter of phase one.

The verdict in Pool B is clear with IOC on top with 12 points, unbeaten in four matches, while Army in the second spot with nine points.

The results: BPCL 2 (Amar Aiyamma, Prabhdeep Singh) beat Indian Overseas Bank 0.

Karnataka 3 (Navin Shekar, Anup Antony, Mudappa) drew with Air India 3 (Bimal Lakra, Vinod Pillay, Ajmer Singh).

Army 3 (Ignace Tirkey, Mundu, Rajesh Lakra) beat Mumbai 1 (Tyrone Pereira).

Thursday’s matches: BPCL v ONGC; Indian Railways v PNB.

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