HOCKEY / Sandeep's penalty corner strikes and Sardar's defending make the difference
With a display that combined the elements of caution, craft and consistency, India conquered Pakistan for the fourth time this year in an international hockey encounter.
At the Asian Games on Saturday, India, powered by the penalty corner strikes of Sandeep Singh and pugnacious work in the defence by Sardar Singh, won a battle of wits that mirrored a tactical approach and was laced in a good measure of technical excellence.
The contest might not have projected the pristine purity of the art that the subcontinent is renowned for but there were enough ingredients to warm the cockles of many a heart.
A beaming coach Brasa attributed the lack of pace and precision to the disconcerting bounce of the pitch. “If FIH persists with such pitches, I will recommend a return to grass hockey,” he joked.
India's dominance in the contest cannot be disputed. The harmony that one witnessed in Pakistan's 8-2 demolition of Japan in the early game was invisible.
The defenders were slow, sometimes clueless sometimes when Tushar Khandekar or Shivendra swerved in to the attack.
What bewildered the Pakistanis was the second-minute penalty corner goal executed in exemplary style by Sandeep Singh. They did hit back within a few minutes when the seasoned Rehan Butt flicked in a reverse shot off a cross from the right. But the Indians strengthened their defensive wall. Sweeper Sardar Singh was confidence personified in his tackles and interceptions.
Several Pakistani moves that looked flourishing were smothered by Sardar's anticipation and adeptness inside the circle.
Mahadik was an able ally as was Danish Mujtaba. In the mid-field Arjun Halappa displayed the wealth of his experience and expertise to chip in a few delectable forwards passes. Neither Gurbaj nor Prabodh in the wings was noticeable.
The attack functioned largely due to moves from Shivendra and Tushar. But it was Dharamvir Singh who put the team ahead before half-time with a spectacular shot.
Sensing that disaster lay in wait, the Pakistanis perked up a bit in an effort to catch up. And this they did when Shakeel Abbasi made capital of rare defence solecism.
On level terms, the teams began fighting the issue with palpable fervour. Shivendra worked for another penalty corner which Sandeep Singh converted with transparent relish, leaving Salman Akbar beaten lock, stock and barrel.
The efficacy of India's work in the defenders' zone can by gauged by the only penalty corner that Pakistan managed to obtain in the match.
All eyes turned on Sohail Abbas, the Pakistani legend in this exercise, but Chetri thwarted the effort with an eye catching save.
India, which has nine points from three wins, takes on Japan in the last pool match while Pakistan meets Bangladesh.
A point will give India the top spot in the Pool.
The Indian women picked up three more points after making heavy weather of Kazakhstan initially. The opponent played without three of its best players.
India with nine points is well on its way to be in medal contention with a match remaining against Korea.
India won the match by six goals to nil.
Defending champion, China, was held to a 2-2 draw by Korea in a thrilling encounter late in the evening.
Park Mihyun struck midway through and Korea clung to this till the end of the first session.
But in the second half, China dominated and the seasoned Fu Baorong smashed in two goals to put the home team on top, but in the final minutes Park Mihyun scored again to share points. Both teams have 13 points each.
Sunday's matches: Men: Pool B: Pakistan v Bangladesh (Noon); Japan v India (3 p.m.). Pool A: Korea v Singapore (1 p.m.); Malaysia v China (5 p.m.) .