It was a smooth take off for Air India in round one of the MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament on Thursday.
Presenting a plethora of internationals in its composition and coached by the redoubtable Dhanraj Pillay, Air India overwhelmed Indian Railways 4-0 in a Pool B tie at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium.
Earlier, BPCL and Punjab National Bank drew 1-1 in a Pool A contest.
Holding on to a solitary goal lead in the first half off — through a penalty corner hit by V.S. Vinaya — Air India peaked in the second.
Air India’s mid-field consisting of Arjun Halappa, Vikram Pillay, Vinaya and Vikas Pillay was its pillar of strength. The frontline did not match the verve of the half-line although Shivendra raised a cheer or two whenever he surged ahead.
The Railways defenders were tenacious for the major part. Innocent Kullu caught the eye in some of the interceptions.
But in the second half, Air India overpowered the defence. Joga Singh deflected a long Vikram pass and minutes later a well combined move involving Vinaya and Samir Dad, culminated in Shivendra finishing with a backhander.
In the final minute Vikas Pillay slotted the fourth taking advantage of a Girush Pimpale pass.
A draw looked unlikely from the way BPCL held command in the first half against PNB. Prompted well by Tushar, the forwards threaded quite a few forays using winger Hariprasad and inside forward Amir Khan.
The PNB defenders were really stretched. And when Pundalik Bellary struck from a cross from the left, BPCL was in full control, or so it seemed.
Thereafter goal-keeper Jasbir Singh allowed no chance whatsoever for the BPCL frontline. He literally stood between the goal post and another goal. BPCL forked up five penalty corners in this part against the two by PNB.
After the break there was a palpable change. PNB wrested the initiative. Pressure gradually escalated on BPCL’s defenders.
Goal-keeper Swinder Singh thwarted quite a few attempts. Earlier, a goal-line stop by Barendra Lakra saved the situation for BPCL.
PNB was decidedly unlucky when a penalty corner hit by Jitender Saroha hit the cross piece and bounced into play. When 12 minutes remained from the hooter, Bengali Xess capitalised on a lapse in the defensive zone to help PNB finish the day with honours even.
Mr. Arun Murugappan, Director, Murugappa Group, inaugurated the tournament along with Sanjay Gulvady, Member Secretary (Hockey) MCC.
The results: BPCL 1 (Pundalik Bellary) drew with Punjab National Bank 1 (Bengali Xess); Air India 4 (V.S. Vinaya, Joga Singh, Shivendra Singh, Vikas Pillay) beat Indian Railways 0.
Keywords: MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup