We know how an India-Pakistan narrative on a hockey turf usually unfolds. It comes down to the side that cashes in on the half chances and has greater self-belief. As it has happened in recent times, India were the more attentive unit on Monday as they beat their arch-rivals 2-1 in a 70-minute thriller in the Asian Champions Trophy. The win assured them of a berth in the final.
“In such pressure matches, you need to convert your chances. India did that and won. We didn’t latch on to the opportunities that came our way. Both teams played well and there was very little to choose,” said a dejected Pakistan skipper Muhammed Imran, adding that “all was not lost”.
Pakistan, despite a better goal difference, will have to win their match against Japan on Wednesday and hope that India don’t lose to Malaysia by a big margin.
Spare a thought for India’s ace custodian P Sreejesh. His stunning back-to-back saves and the way he weathered two penalty corners in quick succession against Pakistan cut a picture.
“Everything went as per plan,” said a beaming Sreejesh. “I made a couple of crucial saves, but I won’t say there was pressure as such. It was all about getting your basics right.”
Coach Michael Nobbs was critical about the umpiring, however. One moment did flare tempers. Pakistan were trailing by two goals. Egged on by fans, they somehow managed to win another penalty corner. An alert Sreejesh blocked a fierce shot from Shakeel Abassi but he could not keep out a rebound from stand-in skipper Muhammed Waqas. India protested saying that Waqas’s stick was above his waist. In the absence of video referrals, the umpires stood their ground. As Nobbs said, “Waqas’s stick was well above shoulder height when he slapped the ball in.”
But the coach was lavish in praise of his boys. “Our forwards were fantastic and so were the defence. It was a complete team effort. Sreejesh was simply outstanding as always. We will try to finish the last match against Malaysia on a high,” he said.
Nobbs is looking forward to another slugfest with Pakistan. “I would still prefer them in the final. Such testing encounters are always important for the players’ development. These pressure matches will do a world of good for the future tournaments,” he said. India skipper Sardar Singh said, “Everyone is playing as a unit. The youngsters are showing tremendous maturity and taking their roles seriously, which is making the difference.”