Millennium Post

Firing on all cylinders

Firing on all cylinders
On June 18, most of the 125 crore inhabitants of India would have been heartbroken by the Indian cricket team's crushing defeat against Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy final. India was beaten by 180 runs in a game they were expected to win with ease.

Elsewhere in London, a rather smaller crowd had gathered on the same day to watch another India-Pakistan encounter, but in a different sport. Playing in the first round Pool B game of the Hockey World League 2017 semi-final, this match was keenly watched.

The game's first big moment was when 18-year-old defender Harmanpreet Singh converted a 13th-minute penalty corner for India to give them the lead against Pakistan. Eight minutes later, two field goals by 23-year-old Talwinder Singh in the space of three minutes gave India a 3-0 lead. Two minutes into the second half, Harmanpreet scored his second with another finely converted penalty corner.

Forward Akashdeep Singh struck another goal in the 47th minute, followed by defender Pardeep Mor two minutes later, to take India 6-0 up. Pakistan managed to pull a goal back in three minutes before the final hooter, but Akashdeep regained India's six goal lead with his second in the 59th.

The 7-1 drubbing of Pakistan at the hands of a rather inexperienced, but a youthful team was quite surprising, but hockey fans across India had a lot to rejoice over. For other sports fans dejected by India's loss in cricket, this was something to cheer for as well.

India's hockey team might not have players with very memorable names. On any given match day, there are at least five players with the surname 'Singh' playing in the team, all of whom are mostly players of Punjab at the state level. These include defender Harmanpreet, forwards Mandeep, Akashdeep and Ramandeep, midfielders Satbir and Sardar Singh.

The names of many of these players might be easily forgotten by many people. But their contribution to India's Hockey World League campaign so far was vital.

Of the four games played in Pool B, India won three and finished second only to Netherlands. In the HWL quarter-final against Malaysia on June 22, India went down fighting two goals to three, giving Malaysia the passage to the semi-finals of HWL and an assured berth in the 2018 World Cup. Luckily, however, the defeat does not rob India of a shot at the World Cup, which will be hosted by Bhubaneswar.

Those who have more than a mild interest the exciting game of field hockey must be aware that the Hockey World League serves as a qualifying tournament for the Hockey World Cup and the Olympics.

The tournament serves more as an opportunity to teams on the lower rungs of world hockey to compete with the top ranking teams and, hopefully, qualify for the major tournaments. Yet, for the ardent hockey fan, this tournament is a chance to see some of the young stars of the national team shine brighter than some others. And the 2016-17 edition of HWL has done precisely that.

In the absence of regular goalkeeper and captain PR Sreejesh, 25-year-old Akash Chikte took over the pads and gloves. His performance in London was not spectacular, but he sure has established himself as a name to reckon with. His substitute, 22-year-old Vikas Dahiya, too has proved his mettle at the international stage and has featured for the men's side eight times now.

Other youngsters, like defender Dipsan Tirkey, midfielder Sumit and forward Affan Yousuf have made their mark this season and are expected to continue their good run.
Sridhar Venkatesh

Sridhar Venkatesh

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