What a sensational start it turned out to be for India, and earlier for England, in the Hero Honda hockey world Cup at the Dhyan Chand Stadium on Sunday.
Amidst the glorious ambience surcharged with emotion and a packed gathering in full throated support for the home team, India, displaying a rare show of vibrancy, vigour and variegated patterns, held Pakistan in a thrall to chalk out a 4-1 victory in Pool B.
The win brought the team members and support staff a reward of Rs. one lakh from the IOA president Suresh Kalmadi.
Earlier, England sunk Aussie hopes in a pulsating tussle for a 3-2 win while Spain struggled to beat South Africa by four goals to two.
India's dominance in the first half was absolute. Almost every layer performed with palpable efficiency. To pick one or two could well be taken as invidious.
The link between the layers was impressive as was the individual work. Both the midfielders,Vikram Pillay and Arjun Halappa, proved a tower of strength as did Gurbaj inside the circle. The confidence with which Gurbaj managed to smother the few Pakistani attacks stood out.
Rajpal Singh and Prabhjot Singh burst into attack repeatedly with Sardar Singh and Guvinder Singh Chandi as able allies. The attack was fluent, ferocious and functional in forcing the rival defenders to slip into errors repeatedly.
The first thrill emerged when a brilliant shot by Tushar Khandekar unsettled the usually unflappable Salman Akbar. The pressure on the Pakistani defenders was palpable.
A withering penalty corner by Diwakar Ram was stopped well by Akbar but midway through India surged into the lead. A fluent penalty corner drive by Sandeep Singh was stopped by Akbar and Shivendra Singh hit the target.
Sandeep slots two
Almost near half time India earned another penalty corner from a referral when only five seconds remained.
Sandeep Singh produced a glorious ground shot to give India the second goal.
Immediately after resumption Chandi wove his way down the line and crossed which prompted a scrimmage that culminated in Prabjhot slotting the third. Man of the match Sandeep added one more to the tally with his second strike
Pakistan had one penalty corner in the first half but Sohail's shot hit the cross piece and bumped into play. In the second half an attempt by Akhtar Ali went over the post. Sohail's second penalty corner hit the cross-piece again and sailed out. But late in the match, the Pakistani ace pumped in a fluent one leaving Sreejesh, whom coach Brasa preferred for this tie, clueless.
The Pakistani attack built up intense pressure and a penalty corner drive by Sohail was well saved by Sreejesh.
Earlier, England's morale was sustained largely by the outstanding work under the bar by James Fair. Intrepid, imaginative and exceedingly agile, Fair was a picture of confidence, effecting saves from the direct and indirect attempts in penalty corners with beaming nonchalance.
The Aussies, who forced 13 penalty corners, tried every mode that a coach like Charlesworth could conceive but nothing could disturb the composure of the English custodian. The Aussies went ahead first after being unsuccessful with four penalty corners in 20 minutes from a stroke. A stick check on Jaime Dwyer resulted in a stroke and he converted without a fuss.
Brace by Tindall
But European champion England picked up pace, precision and perfect understanding to subdue the Aussie defence. Ashley Jackson flicked in a flawless penalty corner and James Tindall smashed the ball into the boards without a semblance of resistance.
Tindall struck again after a sinuous run. The ball hit the post and rolled back. He tapped it on the run again.
The Aussies stepped up the pressure in the last quarter and managed to constrict the margin with a goal by Dwyer when four minutes remained from the whistle.
Earlier, if the expectation was a veneer of hockey of excellence in the opening encounter it did not come through. Spain had to strive hard, bordering on the laborious, to outsmart a more aggressive and athletic South Africa. The margin gives an exaggerated look of Spain's performance in Pool B.
The first referral of the championship came when South Africans questioned the goal by Rodrigo Garza. The third umpire confirmed the goal.
The only enervating moment for Spain came in the final minutes when Pan Quemada produced a stunner of a flick into the net.
Another notable event surfaced in the 20th minute when the Irish umpire, Coil Hutchinson, pulled a muscle and was substituted by the Malaysia's Amartjit Singh.
Pool B: Spain 4 (Roc Oliva, David Alagre, Rodrigo Grza, Pan Quemada) bt South Africa 2 (Julian Hykes, Ian Hayley). HT 2-2.
England 3 (Ashley Jackson, James Tindall 2) bt Australia 2 (Jaime Dwyer 2). HT 2-1.
India 4 (Shivendra Singh, Sandeep Singh 2, Prabhjot Singh) bt Pakistan 1 (Sohail Abbas). HT 2-0.
New Zealand v Canada (4.35 p.m.); Germany v Korea (6.35 p.m.); Netherlands v Argentina (8.35 p.m.).