Sher-E-Punjab are the kings of the Indian hockey jungle. At the Mahindra Stadium tonight they trounced Pune Strykers 5-2 in an exciting final of the inaugural Bridgestone World Series Hockey to pocket the whopping winner’s cheque of Rs 4 crore. The gallant losers settled for half that amount.
Tyron Pereira put the Deccan side into the lead in the fifht minute much to the delight of the almost houseful stadium but the Jalandhar outfit hit back through goals by the ever lively V S Vinaya (penalty corner), Deepak Thakur, a Prabhjot Singh double strike and Harpreet Singh (penalty corner) and quelled any possibility of a fightback from the fightback kings.
Drag flicker Simrandeep Singh Randhwa reduced the margin in the last minute when the match was over as a contest. But despite the heavy margin of defeat the Strykers were not disgraced and fought till the very end.
Rajinder Singh’s winners showed as much killer instinct in attack as they exhibited resoluteness in defence and the Strykers’ danger man Mario Almada was tightly policed and openings were hard to come by for the Gundeep Kumar’s outfit to turn the verdict around.
At the other end, skipper Prabhjot and Thakur, the top field goal scorer in the tournament, struck an almost telepathic understand and ripped through the Pune defence time and again with their lightning sorties with Vinaya and Mandeep Antil providing some valuable assists. But yesterday’s hero, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh “Guri” came to the rescue of the Strykers time and again with some incredible saves.
Backed by a vociferous crowd, the Strykers took the lead in the 4th minute from a flowing left to right move across the park with young right half Pereira chopping the ball from a narrow angle past a stunned Sukhjit Singh under the Punjab bar.
The Shers hit back two minutes later off their first penalty corner when Vinaya flicked the ball into the net following an intelligent variation.
The Jalandhar outfit could have gone ahead in the 8th minute after a lightning counter but Prabhjot had his sweet try blocked by Guri after his former India temmate Thakur had set him up with a passback. Prabhjot then returned the compliment but this time Thakur was found wanting.
The Shers then took the lead in the 32nd minute when Matthew Hotchkis fed Thakur on the top of the circle and the striker, despite having his back to the goal, turned his marker around and hit the target in a flash.
Prabhjot got two goals in the 47th and 67th minutes, the second a masterful solo effort, while Harpreet Singh also sounded the boards in the 57th minute off their seventh penalty corner. Pune managed to turn their third penalty corner in the last minute to account but it was not meant to be their day tonight!