Pune Strykers: The kings of the draw
Enviable teamwork, a sleekness in play rarely seen in others and a strong drive that made them challenge their opponents’ every move, often leaving them fumbling – those are the very reasons that the innumerable supporters of the Pune Strykers love their team. And those are the same reasons that made their match against the Chennai Cheetahs so much more difficult to watch.
The first minute brought with it a shocker when the Cheetahs slipped past the Strykers’ keeper with relative ease for their first goal. Our sunken spirits, however, got a chance to spring up when the Strykers got a penalty corner within minutes of their opponent’s goal. But the presumption that Gurpreet Singh would come through at every shot for his team might have been an over expectation. The goal was not converted but Pune’s fans got their cause for rejoice almost immediately when the Strykers scored their first goal. And even though Pune maintained greater possession and showed good co-ordination, what followed was, from a Pune fan’s perception, one of the slowest quarters their team has ever played, leading to the first quarter ending in a draw.
The second quarter began with high expectations, but failed to yield the desired results. And except for a few notable interceptions and attempts, Pune’s average play did not give their supporters much hope or cause for celebration. We watched as the Cheetahs’ game only got better, waiting for the Strykers to get the kick they seemed to be waiting for – the kick that would drive them to take over the game with their signature surprise. But the kick didn’t come and the Cheetahs soon secured a one goal lead, leaving us to count the minutes that passed painstakingly slowly with no retaliation from the Strykers.
Some things, however, can be relied on. And Mario and Bikash reinstated this belief when they lived up to our expectations and drew the score with their seemingly effortless play before the end of the second quarter.
The third quarter unfortunately, squelched the faith that we could still win. The Cheetahs, true to their name, were playing with increasing speed and precision, their game getting better by the passing minute. From where we looked, the Strykers had stood and watched as the Cheetahs had completely turned the game around.
And as the fourth quarter rolled around, the unsaid concurrence was evident in the expressions of the people sitting around and staring at the television screen. The Strykers’ chance of coming out of this match the victor was almost negligible. A draw could still allow us to maintain the title of the only unbeaten team and even push us back up to the first position on the table. But even that would be difficult if our beloved team continued playing with their seemingly complete lack of intent. With six minutes left to play, Pune called out a new man for a penalty corner. Gurpreet had become routine, his shots almost predictable. And Simrandeep Singh became the fresh change Pune desperately needed. A converted penalty corner later, we were back at the draw.
The remaining five minutes of the game were a slow crawl of intense moments where we only prayed for Pune to show some action when the Cheetahs got hold of the ball. And although the Strykers seemed to do nothing to venture an attempt at scoring again, their half hearted efforts succeeded in keeping the Cheetahs at bay, ending the game at a draw, the third consecutive one for the Strykers.
Pune displayed a clear advantage during their previous matches, but failed to make most of that advantage when they could. But while their game has only gotten more co-ordinated with time, their speed and aggression seem to only be waning. And as the other teams raise the bar of performance with each passing game, the Strykers have stagnated, hitting a plateau of complacence. They have got their stamina back, but their intent and drive to win have only been dwindling. While this may not have affected them too badly up until now, the same cannot be said for the upcoming matches. Each team is proving itself to be a force to reckon with and maybe it was about time the Strykers stopped pushing their luck, picked up their game and began to ‘Bring back the glory’.