Evidence of contests intensifying came crystal clear in the MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament on Sunday. Nothing pointed to this more than SAIL, playing the tournament for the first time, notching up a 5-2 victory over last year’s joint winner, Air India, in Pool B. What more, Air India led 2-1 at half-time.
SAIL’s sizzling performance somewhat overshadowed the key contest between IOC and IOB in Pool A, in which the former emerged a 3-1, victor thanks to V.R. Raghunath’s hat-trick.
From the opening day, the SAIL squad from Rourkela had caught the attention of the discerning followers for the quality it projected.
Strong in the fundamentals — the trapping has been outstanding — the team has built up its attack with commendable systematisation.
If poor finishing had robbed it of success in its earlier matches, the SAIL attack flourished on Sunday against the ageing Air India defence.
So incohesive was Air India’s work in the mid-field that it was unable to hold on even to the 2-1 lead it had gained by half-time.
SAIL’s chief motivating factor was the consistency of effort by the lithe Rajin Kandulna. He was everywhere on the field directing the attack, hitting penalty corners and defending the goal. His resilience and stamina were amazing indeed. He had scored in all the three matches, and notched up two goals on Sunday.
But the talking point of the day was Deepak Kullu’s impeccable penalty corner hit which brought the team its fourth goal.
With three points from two matches, Air India has a hard task in hand to qualify for the semifinals.
SAIL has one match left against Indian Bank.
For all the heroic work under the bar, goal-keeper Sreejesh eventually capitulated to the persistent probing in the second half by Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh and Bharat.
Penalty corner hitter Raghunath profited from the defensive errors to transform the trend of the match.
IOB paid a heavy price for its emphasis on defending the lone goal secured in the first half.
Vinod Rayar did the spade work to which Shanmugam provided the finishing touches amidst spontaneous cheers from the big holiday crowd.
Sreejesh did well to smother the pressure in the first half during which IOC had five penalty corners — three of them came in succession in the final minute. Of the five in the second part, IOC emerged successful in three from Raghunath.
IOC has enhanced its chances of obtaining a semifinal berth with six points in two matches. The fight for the second berth could well by between IOB and Army in this pool.
PNB caused a flutter handing out a 2-1 defeat to BPCL. The defenders held the famed BPCL frontline in check almost throughout.
Jalwinder struck a brace for the winner, while Amar Ayaamma restricted the margin late in the match in Pool B.
Pool A: IOC 3 (V.R. Raghunath-3) bt IOB 1 (Shanmugam).
Pool B: SAIL 5 (Felix Baa-2, Rajin Kandulna-2, Deepak Kullu) bt Air India 2 (Somanna Pradhan, Sameer Dad).
PNB 2 (Jalwinder Singh-2) bt BPCL 1 (Amar Aiyamma).
Keywords: MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup