Fort Rourkela remained unconquered as India won 4-3 against Australia in a shootout after the teams were tied 2-2 in regulation time in the final Pro League match of the mini-series here on Wednesday.
India has remained unbeaten at the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium in eight games, starting with its World Cup campaign earlier this year.
Despite missing two early shots in the shootout, the host came back to take the game to sudden-death, courtesy another impressive performance by P.R. Sreejesh who effected three saves.
A fighting Australian team kept up the pressure right through, especially in the second half, but Harmanpreet’s men managed to walk away with two points after the win.
A goal in the second minute, courtesy a rasping reverse hit by Vivek Sagar Prasad from the top of the circle off a penalty corner rebound in the second minute handed an ideal start to India. But the early dominance did not translate into a flurry of goals as India misses a series of penalty corners in the next couple of minutes.
With Manpreet Singh sitting out, player positions were shifted. Dilpreet Singh moved further up to his usual spot and Vivek, featuring in his 100th game, marshalled the central midfield along with Hardik Singh.
India was in control for the first quarter but Australia gradually created space, took possession and opened channels on either flank through passes on the sidelines. Only a resolute Indian defence, impressive goalkeeping and the post kept the Aussies at bay.
After the half-time break, the sideline passes were mixed with long aerials to bypass the opponent and enter the Indian circle more often. One of those saw Pawan tripping Nathan Ephraums on the backline to concede a stroke and a goal.
Sukhjeet’s brilliant flick, which deflected off Eddie Ockenden’s stick, put India ahead for the second time. Australia threw everything upfront and managed to pull level through Tim Howard with eight minutes remaining. However, the visitors could only go that far.
India remained on top of the table with 19 points in eight games while Australia was sixth (eight from eight). Harmanpreet Singh led the scorers’ list (11), while Selvam Karthi (5) was the other Indian in the top-five.
India’s next game is against Belgium in London on May 26.
The result: India 2 (Vivek Sagar 2, Sukhjeet 47) drew with Australia 2 (Ephraums 37, Howard 52); Shootout: India 4 (Harmanpreet 2, Dilpreet, Sukhjeet) bt Australia 3 (Harvie, Marais, Welch).