Ranchi bring home the Cup


Trailing 1-0 and the clock ticking by in the second half of the Hockey India League final against the Delhi Waveriders, the Ranchi Rhinos were betraying a hint of desperation and vulnerability. They were attacking in waves, but an alert Delhi defence were stopping them right before the edge of the circle.

As the home team felt the noose tightening around their neck, they resorted to Plan 'B': hit a long shot inside the circle and look for a deflection. The plan was more hopeful than purposeful, but it nearly worked just before the end of the third quarter, only for Mandeep Singh, positioned near the far post, to completely miss Moritz Furste's cross from outside the Delhi 'D'. As a collective 'ooh' rang out in the arena, and Furste ran towards Mandeep, not to admonish the youngster for missing a sitter, but to put an encouraging arm around the 17-year-old who looked a bit dejected with himself. Furste had said after the semi-final that he didn't want the youngster to feel under pressure, and his gesture showed this.

After the break, Mandeep and Ranchi looked a different team, as they put the Delhi defenders under more stress. In the 54th minute, Mandeep intercepted a loose backpass and induced an error out of Rupinder Pal Singh, who brought him down. The referee said play on, but the Ranchi striker protested vehemently and opted for a referral. The TV umpire awarded the home team a penalty corner. Even though they had missed the previous two, there was an air of inevitability about it: not unlike the feather-drop double-fault by Andy Murray in the Australian Open final. As Manpreet Singh prepared to push the ball towards Furste, the expectant crowd very briefly fell silent, anticipating a decisive shift in the game.

... contd.

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