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WSH - Pune Strykers - Comets leave Strykers eating their star dust

641   //    12 Mar 2012, 14:56 IST

The Pune Strykers, known for giving their competitors a good challenge, have found a new challenge of their own – themselves. Their match against the Chandigarh Comets was clear evidence that they are no longer satisfied in being challenged by their opposition. Maybe they believe that their competitors’ game is just not enough and have taken it upon themselves to make it difficult for them to win.

Three draws later too, the Pune Strykers’ had not lost much of their fan following. The almost full stadium of their home ground was proof of the hope that their fans had – that their team will bounce back from their self inflicted stagnation. And the Chandigarh Comets, with their less than average win record, could be just the one to ignite that return.

The Strykers took possession from the first minute on. The anticipation in the stadium was palpable as their supporters watched with bated breath for their team to make their first goal and secure their lead. And Mario Almada, a favorite amongst everyone present, made that much awaited lead for Pune in the eleventh minute, reinstating the belief that they still had their aggression. But the Chandigarh Comets seemed to be in no mood to be left behind and equaled the score within minutes of Pune’s lead. What followed was a desperate attempt by the Strykers as they tried to capitalize on their obviously greater possession. But challenges by the Comets at every step and move, left them unable to change the score in their favor.

While the second half began with a change in the side of play, the ball seemed to remain on the same side. The Comets had returned after their break determined to make the Strykers face their first loss, their intent clear in their sudden and vehement possession of the ball. And try as they may, the Strykers were unable to put up a fight anywhere as good as the Comets had.

A successfully converted penalty corner later, the Comets had their lead while the stadium continued to cheer for their home team in the hope that their encouragement might motivate them to level the score. But when the Comets scored their third goal in the same quarter, there was a silently collective surety that Pune was not going to win and may not even be able to draw.

The fourth quarter seemed to be a mirror image of the first, except that the team that had complete control was Chandigarh, not Pune. And even though Pune tried on multiple occasions, Chandigarh’s defense and goalkeeper were impenetrable. But Pune’s lucky angel still had some tricks up her sleeve and the cheer was almost deafening during the four penalty corners that the Strykers received in the last five minutes of the game. But Gurpreet Singh was unable to display his usual prowess and the penalty corners were not converted. Even Simrandeep, the Strykers’ secret weapon unveiled in their last match, could not put a goal past the Comets’ wall of a goal keeper.

Never has a stadium emptied so fast as when the Strykers lost their first game. And as could be heard from all those walking out, the consensus was straight forward. Pune lost because of three reasons. They failed to improve their game when everyone else did; they depended too much on Gurpreet Singh for penalty corners and his routine shots were no longer going to work and they waited too long to challenge their opponents’ possession. After all, allowing the Comets to hold on to the ball until they reached their D and then tackle them, in spite of running next to them halfway across the field, was the reason they were able to obtain penalty corners and close range opportunities.

But if the crowd hoarding the merchandise store after the match is any indication, the Pune Strykers, in spite of their first loss, are still loved by their home town. And their supporters are not going to give up cheering for them in the hope that it may yet motivate them to play like they did in their first match. They have room for improvement and now, with three consecutive matches on their home ground, they also have the chance and time for practice that will help them imbibe that improvement into their game.

Today, they play the roaring Lions, who have already given the Cheetahs a metaphorical run for their money. And since the Strykers were only able to hold the Cheetahs back to a draw, their game against the Lions holds all that much more importance. This might just be where they prove that they are in fact a team worth playing and that their first two wins were much more than beginner’s luck.

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