SPORT

Indian women lose opening encounter



S. Thyagarajan

Melbourne: Women's hockey has acquired a rare touch of intensity. South Korea and China were powerful teams in the 90s. Now, India is very much in that league if the showing against Australia in the Commonwealth Games here on Thursday is any indication.

The margin does not mirror the true nature of the combat that India, as the defending champion, put up against a formidable foe as Australia.

Not only were the Indians adept and astute but authoritative as well. No wonder India even managed a 2-1 lead midway through the first half. Progressively, distracted perhaps by the brusque approach of the Australians, the errors began to increase. Nothing exemplifies this better than the seven penalty corners conceded in the second half.

High on confidence

A goal in the first minute by Wendy Beattie had little impact. In fact, it spurred India to wrest the initiative. A penalty corner goal by Asuntha Lakra, and the lead goal by Mamta Kharab off a shot by Rajwinder Kaur was an indication of the team's confidence level.

Impressive in their short passing and positioning, the Indians matched the Australians in almost every sphere. Karen Smith produced the equaliser close on half-time. A yellow card for Sumrai Tete, however, upset the rhythm. In the second half, repeated mistakes by the defence helped the Aussies dominate. True there were a few incisive runs by Jyothi Kullu and Saba Anjum, who was injured in fierce action inside the circle, but they could not be translated into goals. A word of praise for goalkeeper Helen Innocent would not be out of place a few of her penalty corner saves were spectacular.

Rebacca Sanders flicked in the third goal and Angie Skiving essayed a blinder of a drag shot to complete a rewarding start for the home team.

Bronze medallist in 1998, New Zealand faced a stiff challenge from Scotland, which staged a late rally to reduce the margin.

Systematic

The Kiwis were more systematic with Marie Sharland and Elizabeth Igasan being the catalysts. A penalty corner by Igasan gave them the lead. Midway in the second half Charlotte Harrison deflected a free hit by Sharland.

Barring Vikki Bunce, who made a couple of scintillating sallies, the Scots were subdued until the last quarter when Samantha Judge produced a stunning shot from a left wing pass.

Debutants Barbados and Nigeria learnt a little of what competition is like at this level. Their showing against Canada and Malaysia respectively had that element of fervour if not the desired measure of fluency. The results: Pool A: Malaysia 4 (Hashim Norfarnha, Intan 2, Nadia) bt Nigeria 0; Australia 4 (Wendy Beattie, Karen Smith, Rebecca Sanders, Angie Skiving) bt India 2 (Asuntha Lakra, Mamta Kharab).

Pool B: Canada 4 (Kimberly Bucker, Andrea Rushton, Tiffany Michaluk, Helen Stephanie) bt Barbados 0; New Zealand 2 (Elizabeth Igasan, Charlotte Harrison) bt Scotland 1 (Samantha Judge).

Friday's matches: Men: India v Malaysia (3 a.m. IST); England v New Zealand (5 a.m.); South Africa v Trinidad & Tobago (8 a.m.); Australia v Scotland (1-30 p.m.).

Women: Canada v England (8 a.m.); Nigeria v South Africa (9 a.m.); Barbados v New Zealand (11 a.m.); Australia v Malaysia (3-30 p.m.).