World Series Hockey - Pune Strykers held but zoom to top
Bhopal Badshahs came storming back in the dying minutes to force a division of points and a 1-1 tie with Pune Strykers in a nerve wracking fourth round match of the Bridgestone World Series Hockey in the western city tonight. It was a match the visitors could have even won as they forced two penalty corners in the last minute of play but failed to capitalize on the situation.
Had they won, the Badshahs could have zoomed to the top of the table but it was Pune who finally enjoyed the distinction, taking their tally of points to eight from two wins and two draws. The visitors trail one point behind.
Unbeaten Pune were the dominant side tonight, thrilling their supporters with their wonderful moves. Skipper Ken Pereira, also Canada captain, had a great night out and led from the front with his darting runs across the pitch and great distribution. Man of the match Mario Almada, the Argentine with the silken skills, Lungile Tsolekile and Damandeep Singh also harried the Badshahs with their individual and combined flair. Bikash Toppo also chipped in by linking well with his forwards.
But it all came to naught as former India goalkeeper Baljit Singh stood as firm as a rock. He in fact stopped two good shots by the South African which seemingly had goal written on them. Baljit was eventually beaten by Gurpreet’s drag flick in the 27th minute from Pune’s third penalty corner even though he got a stick to it. That strike made Gurpreet the joint top scorer with Chennai Cheetah’s Imran Warsi with eight goals apiece. He however flopped during four other penalty corners but was not always the man at fault as the stoppers did not always do their job properly.
Managed by 1988 Olympian Gundeep Kumar, the most low key coach in the WSH, this assistant to former national coach Jose Brasa, has been the brain behind the free flowing play of the Strykers, helped no doubt by inputs from that classy inside forward of yore, Mervyn Fernandes. But he will not be happy with his wards who failed to translate their dominance into goals which almost proved suicidal.
Vasudevan Bhaskaran’s outfit were below par for three quarters of the game but they sparked to life in the fourth quarter and created at least four chances to clinch the issue apart from the lovely equalizer netted by Affan Yousuf in the 67th minute. But Pune’s Amit Gowda saved on the goalline from a penalty corner and Sameer Dad’s reverse push was kept out by Gurpreet with goalkeeper Guri beaten. Then Lalit Uphadhyay missed the mark narrowly and in the last minute Guri denied Dad for what would have been the match winner.
It was verily a thriller that went down to the wire and in retrospect the tie was a fair division of points as the Badshah’s great fightback in the last quarter negated Pune’s complete ascendancy in the earlier part of the match.