The Japanese had done enough in the first two Tests to suggest the final two matches won’t be a cakewalk for the Indians. The sturdiness of the world number sixteen side has taken the world by surprise.
Japan’s performance over their Asian rivals served a clear message that there are no free lunches in international hockey – every win has to be earned.
Like the first two Tests, the Indians were made to slog every inch before coming off with a narrow 2-1 win in the third Test at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar to ensure they win the four-Test series with one game to spare.
The match was tightly contested as far as the early exchanges went. The Japanese had their chances while the Indians showed more poise upfront. After a barren opening quarter, the match headed for a goalless first half until Vokkaliga Raghunath gave India the lead in the dying seconds of the second quarter as they held a slender lead at half-time.
The opening goal spurred the Indians, who kept raiding the Japanese citadel regularly and were soon rewarded when Akashdeep Singh essayed a fine run from the left, penetrating three Japanese defenders before slotting home to tighten the home side’s grip on the game.
Japan – the tough cookies they are – hit back with a goal in the closing stages of the third quarter leaving the final quarter interestingly poised. But, India held out the final quarter to close out a 2-1 win to bag the four-Test series.
The final match will be played in two days’ time, on the 9th of May at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneshwar.