There could be nothing better than a volatile start to the final edition of the FIH Men's Hockey Champions Trophy, currently being held at Breda, Netherlands. The opening encounter between India and Pakistan provided just that to millions of hockey fans.
Even though the result was completely one-sided, the brilliance with which the Indians played throughout the match was something which made us wonder if this was the same Indian team which had squandered a brilliant chance to climb onto the top of the podium at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Giving no room to their arch-rivals Pakistan, India jackhammered them 4-0 in the opening match, giving just the start their new coach Harendra Singh expected from them.
Return of the whimsical Team India
The factor which once made Team India a household name was their whimsical nature, which the rivals couldn't figure out easily until the advent of the astroturf.
The same unpredictability, that even led Team India to a historic FIH Champions Trophy final in 2016, was visible in today's match, as the Indian team confused their Pakistani rivals with their tactics to such an extent, that they could never match up throughout the four quarters of the match.
Contrary to the dreary start in the Commonwealth Games, a cool, calm and collected Team India focused on the simple, but the lethal ideal of coach Harendra Singh: be aggressive to the last.
In the second quarter, star forward Ramandeep Singh chipped in a nice shot dexterously into the goalpost, giving India a much-needed lead of 1-0. Team Pakistan, coached by ex Indian coach Roelant Oltmans, had no idea of the further surprises Team INDIA had in store for them.
The surprise improvement in the defence
The same defence denied us a chance to climb the podium at the Commonwealth Games, and it was up to coach Harendra to see that the defence didn't trouble Team India's chances at the final edition of the FIH Champions Trophy.Indian defence has been the Achilles heel in our aspirations for further glory. It is no secret that our defenders have choked in dire situations, robbing us of glorious memories, including a shock loss in the quarterfinals at Rio Olympics 2016.
But to everyone's surprise, the Indian defenders stood solid as a rock, refusing to budge even an inch to their rivals.
Of an estimated three penalty corners, and five-goal shots against our side, Pakistan could convert none of them at all, thanks to the defenders Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas and our skipper, P.R. Sreejesh, who defended the goal with marvelous ease.
The miracle none expected
India, however, had saved their best for the last. Notorious for giving away in the dying minutes, this time Team India did the exact opposite, shocking everyone with three goals in the last five minutes.
Surprisingly, none of the goals converted by the Indian players came from either penalty corners or free hits. All were smart field goals, chipped in brilliantly in the following order:-
- Ramandeep Singh [26th minute]
- Dilpreet Singh [54th minute]
- Mandeep Singh [57th minute]
- Lalit Kumar Upadhyay [59th minute]
Given that India wasn't expected to perform this brilliantly in the opening match of the Champions Trophy, the upcoming encounter against Olympic champions Argentina, which will be held the following day, becomes all the more important.
We do hope that coach Harendra's boys perform the same against their Argentine rivals and move a step further in the quest for a second successive final in the FIH Champions Trophy 2018.
Can India go all the way in the Champions Trophy? Sound off your opinions in the comment section below!