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Men's FIH Pro League 2020: Late fightback in vain as India go down 3-4 against defending champions Australia

Raj Kumar
Raj Kumar's brace was the highlight for the Indians against Australia
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 21 Feb 2020
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Raj Kumar Pal delighted Indian fans with a memorable brace even as the home side slumped to a 3-4 defeat in the first of two matches against Australia in the Pro League 2020 at the Kalinga Stadium.

For the first time in the competition, the Indians did not appear to be in control of the proceedings until the third quarter with the defending champions striking form at Bhubaneswar.

Both sides took the field after having made four changes - the Australians having beaten Great Britain 5-1 in their previous game before the Indians fell short against Belgium 2-3.

Colin Batch's boys seized the initiative after thwarting an early Indian foray with Akashdeep Singh unable to latch on well enough in the striking circle.

Dylan Wotherspoon opened the scoring after a long ball from Rupinder eventually found Lachlan Sharp in the sixth minute.

The visitors then heaved a sigh of relief when the ball hit striker Lalit Upadhyaya's foot at the goalmouth after keeper Andrew Charter had fumbled.

The Indians had a reprieve Young Pro League star Jacob Anderson directed a marvellous first touch pass towards Wotherspoon who wasn't able to reach the ball in time.

Jake Whetton and Manpreet Singh both received green cards early in the second quarter as the action got ever-more intense - but, an unmarked Eddie Ockenden found Tom Wickham who beat Sreejesh all ends up in the 18th minute.

The Indians were awarded a PC but the visitors went upstairs with the video umpire concluding that the ball had not touched an Aussie foot while a timely clearance from Sreejesh prevented what could have been a vital third goal for the Aussies before the lemon break.

Wotherspoon missed a sitter early in the second half and the Indians reduced the deficit soon after.

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The Indian defence was caught napping yet again with Lachlan Sharp finding the back of the net with just over four minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Aussies were then accorded acres of space and managed to cut open the Indian deep defence to score a fourth goal with Jacob Anderson getting the final touch in the 42nd minute.

The Indians returned to the pitch with a vengeance in the final quarter and exerted telling pressure on the Aussie defence before Rupinder Pal Singh got his act together to score a PC goal in the 52nd minute - just after Raj Kumar Pal had scored off a lethal strike from the edge of the ciricle in the 47th minute of play.

Rupinder was run down twice by Jake Harvie, but the PC goal very nearly turned the tide of the match after Raj Kumar Pal showed his class once again after doing well against Belgium.

Sreejesh used every bit of his goalkeeping paraphernalia and his outstretched body to miraculously deny the Australians a possible fifth goal and was then taken off as the Indians went on the offensive with an extra man in the attack.

With just over 30 seconds to go, the Indians had a golden chance to equalize, but Rupinder's flick was just wide off target.

It was a creditable effort from Graham Reid's team who fought their way back after being 1-4 down and will now play Australia in the second match of the double-header on Saturday evening at the same venue.

Published 21 Feb 2020, 21:11 IST
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