In what will go down in history as the worst ever showing against New Zealand, a 3-7 reverse for India became a traumatic reality in the Azlan Shah hockey tournament on Thursday. Not once, but thrice India had secured the lead. But it shockingly slumped in the second half, conceding no less than five goals.
This only mirrors the pathetic pool of errors by the defenders and the abysmally low level of performance by goalkeeper Chetri.
For those who reckoned India as having a possible chance in Sunday's final, the outcome was baffling.
With seven points after finishing the engagements, India can, at best, fight for the 5-6 placings in the competition.
Admittedly, the credit should go to the indefatigable Kiwis. Their fortitude in coming back to reduce the lead three times was amazing.
True, India scored splendid goals, each one as spectacular as the other, but the team lost the plot in the second half, showing no strategy to contain the pace, precision and punch of the Kiwi attack, which forked up six penalty corners and netted three.
Sunil and Gurvinder netted in the first half, each time giving India the lead that the team could not hold on to.
The Kiwis neutralised it in style with Nicolas Wilson and Blair Hilton producing shots that embellished their work at the finish. A peach of an effort by Chandi off Antil put India on top again shortly after resumption. But again the Kiwis fought back.
What a devastating 30 minutes it turned out to be for the Indian defenders! All the good work done by Vikas Pillay, Vikram Pillay and Mahadik in the first half vanished into thin air. The indomitable Kiwi front-line performed the demolition job with unimaginable fury.
Now the Kiwis, with seven points and a match in hand against Australia, enjoy an outside chance of figuring in the final.
A clear picture will however emerge after the final set of matches involving Britain, Pakistan and Korea on Saturday.
Aussies in final
Earlier, Australia subdued a spirited challenge from Great Britain to ensure a place in Sunday's final with a game to spare. The Aussies are on top of the table with 13 points.
Brent Dancer, son of the famous former coach, Barry Dancer, gave an early lead which was built on by Christopher Cirello — both from penalty corners in the first half.
The Aussies held the initiative for a major part of the contest thanks to the good midfield play where Matthew Swann was the livewire. Jason Wilson, Liem de Young and Jonathan Charlesworth sparkled in the front-line, exerting enormous pressure on the rival defence in which veteran Glenn Kirkham was outstanding.
It was only in the second half that the Britons made their presence felt.
The sinuous runs by Simon Mantell and Matt Daly stretched the Aussie defenders to their wits' end.
Britain forced three penalty corners in the second half.
The towering Richard Mantell produced a near perfect penalty corner hit midway in the second half, bringing the match to life.
Britain fought hard to snatch a point. The Aussies not only denied it, but almost increased the margin in the last minute.
Adam Dixon brought off a superb goal-line save after goalkeeper James Fair was beaten lock, stock and barrel by a surging Aussie sally.
Britain has nine points with a match remaining against Korea on Saturday. Malaysia notched up its first win in five matches when it recovered from a 0-1 deficit at half-time to beat Korea 3-1. Friday is a rest day.
Australia 2 (Brent Dancer, Christopher Cirello) bt England 1 (Richard Mantell); New Zealand 7 (Nicholas Wilson, Blair Hilton 2, Andy Hayward 2, Matt L'huillier, Shay Neal) bt India 3 (S.V. Sunil, Gurvinder Chandi 2); Malaysia 3(Nabil Fiqri, Faisal Saari, Ahmed Tajuddin) bt Korea 1 (Nam Hyun Woo).