The Indian men’s hockey team broke its 12-match winless streak against world No. 1 Australia with a 4-3 victory in the third game to stay alive in the five-match Test series at the Mate Stadium, here on Wednesday.
This was India’s 13th win over Australia in 65 hockey matches and their first since 2016.
It was Mandeep Singh who set up Akashdeep Singh to score the winner for India while other goals were scored by Harmanpreet Singh (12′), Abhishek (47′), and Shamsher Singh (57′). For Australia, Jack Welch (25), Aran Zalewski (32′) and Nathan Ephraums (59′) scored.
After emphasizing the strong defensive structure on the eve of the match, India captain Harmanpreet Singh ensured his team followed it with perfection as they impressed with their one-on-one defence to contain the Australian forward line who have shown rampaging form so far in this five-match series.
India got off the blocks swiftly, pushing Australia on the backfoot when they converted from a penalty corner in the 12th minute. It was Hardik Singh who gave the breakthrough when he created the PC via an aerial ball into the circle, which was poorly intercepted by the Australian defender leading to a dangerous play foul in the D.
Harmanpreet Singh, who has been in great form, was on target with a powerful drag flick that went past Johan Durst at lightning speed. This was Harmanpreet’s fourth goal of the tour.
Australia had a chance to level the score early in the second quarter when they were awarded a PC after India’s foot-foul in the circle. But experienced India goalie PR Sreejesh was on-point with his saves. He first blocked Jeremy Hayward’s drag flick and then stopped two more shots on goal along with his wingman Surender supporting him.
However, Australia didn’t let go of the opportunity when they won their second PC in the 25th minute. Though Sreejesh did well to block Hayward’s flick, Welch nicked the ball past him on rebound.
Australia furthered their scoreline at the start of the third quarter through a well-executed PC scored by Aran Zalewski in the 32nd minute. However, India remained calm in their pursuit and continued to hold on to the momentum – taking the match down to the wire as has been the trend in the previous two matches.
India upped the ante in their attack, which resulted in their second PC of the match in the 47th minute. A good injection by Abhishek was well-received by Harmanpreet only to set up the injector to deflect the ball into the post.
The variation worked with Abhishek perfecting it. Moments later, he worked in tandem with Shamsher Singh to win India’s third PC. Unfortunately, the chance went begging after a poor execution.
With just four minutes left for the final hooter, Shamsher helped India win their fourth PC and this time, he was immaculate in his effort to pick up a rebound off Jugraj Singh’s drag flick to score his team’s third goal.
The final few minutes were intense, with Australia scoring off a PC in the 59th minute. But a fine coordination between Mandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh ensured India finished well.
“It was a better defensive effort today. We put up a good fight back on a couple of occasions,” said India’s Chief Coach Graham Reid after the match.
However, he still warned the players of giving away too many chances to their opposition. In this case, conceding eight PCs.
“While our PC conversion rate was good, we probably still gave them too many opportunities and relied a little bit too much on our goalkeeper. Having said that, sometimes it is good to graft out a win and I think that’s what the team did today. We fought hard and it was a good character-building game for us ahead of the World Cup in January,” the coach said.