It won’t be a sweeping statement to say that the Indian men’s hockey team snatched a draw from the doorstep of victory in their crucial 2022 Commonwealth Games pool game against England at Birmingham. The Graham Reid-coached Indian outfit controlled the proceedings for three quarters but England backed by their boisterous home crowd struck three telling blows in a span of six minutes in the final quarter via the duo of Nicholas Bandurak and Phil Ropar. The late English resurgence coupled with a ten-minute yellow card to Gurjant Singh and temporary marching orders to Varun Kumar ensured India’s cup of frustration was overflowing.
The closing fourteen minutes of play were in stark contrast to the first three quarters, when India operated a sleek machine, attacking in waves from the starting whistle and sustaining it for long periods. Lalit Upadhay engineering India’s penalty corner and fittingly, it was Lalit who drew first blood, unleashing a reverse flick off a Harmanpreet Singh drag-flick after England goalkeeper Oliver Payne produced an important save. India pressed home the advantage in the closing stages of the opening quarter courtesy of a nifty move by Nilakanta Sharma who outsmarted James Albery and fed Mandeep Singh, who outwitted Thomas Sorsby before letting a fierce tomahawk – Mandeep was at it again when Abhishek set him from the left baseline as India held a 3-0 lead at half-time. Liam Ansell gave something to cheer about for the English camp amidst the Indian dominance but Harmanpreet Singh struck off a shortie to further shore up India’s grip on the game.
England lost their referral very early in the second quarter and India did make them pay. What unfolded in the final quarter was something India won’t have bargained for. The lapses in concentration were fuelled by cards handed to Gurjant and Varun. The umpiring in the closing stages of the match left a lot to be desired and India won’t be wrong if they feel hard done by the umpiring, especially in the fourth quarter.
India would now look to beat Wales and Canada by handsome margins and hope that they top the pool ahead of England on a better goal average and avoid facing mighty Australia in the semfinal.