Warmed-up India show spark

HockeyMembers of Indian Junior Men's Hockey team during a press conference for the Junior Men's Hockey World Cup in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo

The India Under-21 team squandered three penalty corners and as many clear chances in their second and final practice match before the Junior Hockey World Cup, which begins on Friday. Yet, Wednesday evening's result notwithstanding at any rate, scorelines in practice matches are irrelevant the colts will take a lot of positive from this performance as they were playing a highly-rated team, Belgium, who are the reigning champions of Europe at the under-21 level.

India came into the match, having defeated England 4-1 on Saturday. However, their performance in that match, it is understood, caused some consternation within the camp. Maybe because the Indians looked a bit slow and their passing wasn't really up to scratch.

Then on Monday, they played an unscheduled practice match against South Africa. During a passage of play, the South Africans rattled their defence with repeated forays into the circle. The alarm bells rang.

The Belgium fixture was more than just practice, then. It was an exercise in getting the confidence back.

The first half didn't go exactly as planned. Belgium were too fresh and too strong in the beginning. They defended in numbers and impressively, smothering the Indian mid-field. Each time captain Manpreet Singh got the ball, three Belgian players converged on him from different directions.

The same was true of Satbir Singh, Imran Khan, Kothajit Singh or Pradeep Mor.

Still, on those occasions that they raided the opposition's D, they looked threatening. India got an early penalty corner, in the third minute, but their No.1 dragflicker, Gurjinder Singh was on the bench at that time. And Sukhmanjit Singh's low hit to the left post was easily defended by the goalkeeper.

At the other end, the Belgian forwards were profligate as well, and there were quite a few crosses into the Indian 'D' that went a-begging. India got another penalty in the 15 minute, and this time Gurjinder was there, but the ball couldn't be stopped for the dragflick.

... contd.

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