In draw with England, India’s men’s hockey team go from excellent to average

The 60 minutes against England on Monday showed how scintillating and silly Indian hockey can be.
In the first 30, Olympic bronze medallists could not put a foot wrong against England. They pressed high, ran into spaces, played cheeky through balls, mesmerised with their 3D skills, and scored goals.

India were flying. In the next 30, they played like a different team. They defended deep, were second to most balls, could not find a decent pass, the skills vanished, and conceded goals. India crash landed.

The high-entertaining Pool B tie at Birmingham’s University Hockey ground ended in a 4-4 draw. But for India, it’ll feel like a defeat, having allowed England to come back after they led 3-0 at half-time.

It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall in the Indian dressing room post-match. For, India repeated the same mistakes that Graham Reid, often polite to a fault, has been underlining for quite some time, especially post-Tokyo – their tendency to drop energy, impatience, the lack of discipline and consequent pressure on the defence, leading to conceding goals.

They weren’t like this when the match began. Both teams were eager to win this tie to avoid playing Australia – who have won every CWG gold medal – but it was India that came flying out of the blocks. Reid would’ve been happy with that, given that he’s admitted more than once during the FIH Pro League that he hoped his team would ‘start a match well’.

India were all over England and had raced to a healthy 3-0 lead, with Lalit Upadhyay opening the scoring by latching on to a rebound from a penalty corner. Mandeep Singh then scored a brace, his first coming from a powerful tomahawk and the second with a little bit of fortune after he received a delightful through ball, tried to play it square towards the goal mouth but instead it was deflected past the goalkeeper by an English player.

At that stage, India looked firmly in control. It wasn’t just the goals, the manner in which they played gave an impression that this team had elevated itself to a different level, especially with the high-press play and the fluency and speed of the counterattacks.

After the half-time break, however, something snapped. From being adventurous and aggressive, India went into a conservative mode but that didn’t harm them as much as the indiscipline.

The players needlessly got involved in verbal, and slightly physical, duels with their opponents.

England thus managed to get under the skin of Indian players and started to take advantage of that.
India got three yellow cards – Varun Kumar was sent to the sin bin twice, once in the 19th minute for five minutes and then again in the 43rd for 10 minutes, and Gurjant was sent off in the 51st, resulting in India finishing the match with 10 men.

The timing of the cards, and their consequences, had a direct impact on the result. Varun’s second yellow came a minute after Liam Ansell had pulled one back for England, to make it 3-1. While the Indian defender sat on the sidelines, leaving his team exposed, Harmanpreet Singh restored the three-goal cushion by converting a penalty corner. However, England made most of their man-advantage as Nicholas Bandurak made it 4-2 in the 47th and three minutes later, Phil Roper scored a brilliant solo goal to reduce the deficit to just one goal.

Like Varun, Gurjant’s yellow card too came a minute after Roper’s goal. With India reduced to nine men, England were sharp enough to make the most of it as Bandurak scored his second to complete England’s comeback and level the scores.

It’s not a devastating result as they still have a chance to finish the group in first position. But given the way they played the first half, it’s crazy India should walk out relieved after hanging on to a draw.

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