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World Series Hockey -- Strykers are 'staying alive'

Pune Strykers pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in the Bridgestone World Series Hockey by clawing back from a 1-4 deficit to defeat Bhopal Badshahs 5-4 in a sensational last round match in the Madhya Pradesh capital tonight. The win keeps their chances for a semi-final slot alive as the league phase heads into an exciting last day and last match climax tomorrow.

The last round league match at the Aishbagh Stadium was a virtual winner-take-it-all quarter-final for the last slot in the semis as a draw would not have helped anybody’s cause. The Strykers are now in fourth place with 21 points after their sixth win while the Badshahs bowed out with 17 points after their seventh defeat.

Chennai Cheetahs will now have to win their last encounter against the Mumbai Marines to seal their semis slot at the expense of the Strykers.

The hero of the Pune win was young drag flicker Simrandeep Singh Randhawa who came up with a hat-trick of late penalty corner conversions in the  52nd, 54th and 59th minutes to turn around his side’s fortunes. Nikkim Thimmiah got a goal for the winners in the 11th minute while Birendra Lakra bundled in the match winner with two minutes remaining on the clock.

Pakistani Waseem Ahmed struck a brace for the hosts, one a field effort and the other from a penalty stroke, while Karan Bhaskaran and ‘pocket dynamite’ Affan Yousuf got the other goals for the losers.

The Badshahs went into attacking mode from the very outset and created a handful of early openings, two of which they capitalized upon, though Lalit Upadhyay missed an absolute sitter in the second minute after the Pakistani, Ali Khan Mudassar, had set him up.  Skipper Sameer Dad was missing in action for long periods but his young guns guided by Pakistani veterans Waseem Ahmed and Ali Khan Mudassar seized the opportunity to rise to the occasion.

But Pune were no slouches either and despite the reverses they kept coming back at the hosts with a relentless barrage of counter attacks which ultimately yielded rich dividends. But the royal defenders had a good outing tonight with lanky Kiwi midfielder Casey Henwood and goalkeeper Baljit Singh rising to the occasion till they were subdued by the prowess of Simrandeep.

Pakistani midfielder Ahmed got the Badshahs into the lead in the fifth minute itself after A B Cheeyana had worked his way along the baseline with a superb run and teed him up.  Bhaskaran Jr made it 2-0, lurking at the far post to ungainly sweep in an attempt by Ahmed after a good dummy. Nikkin Thimmiah reduced the margin by getting a touch to a snap shot by Mario Almada in the 11th minute.

The third goal of Bhopal Badshahs’ was an absolute beauty as Upadhyay and Ahmed combined in the 21st minute to set up young ‘Toofan’ Yousuf who picked his spot in the corner of the woodwork in a flash.

But the script changed drastically for the hosts as Simrandeep decided to come to the party to make up for the inefficacy of his misfiring colleague Gurpreet Singh and steer his side home.

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