The home crowd jumped every time an England baton tapped the ball forward. But for most of the first two quarters, those pats followed odd recoveries from an Indian attack.
India fans, outnumbered and cheered on in the stands by their English counterparts, sat for a change – numbed by a sense of nostalgia unfolding on the pitch.
If Harmanpreet’s odd run and body dodge England‘s reminded hockey fans of Pargat Singh, Nilakanta’s pass to cut the defense in half brought back memories of Prabhjot. And Mandeep’s final touch completed this famous trio from the past, with Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur united as one.
Three goals in the first 22 minutes was a hard lesson for England. This, after all, was the “Pool B match” – supposed to decide who will finish on top and face the No. 2 team in Pool A in the semi-finals. But this scenario was certainly not what India and England would have had in mind before the start of the game.
Modern hockey is a strange game and can change in seconds. This one too.
Despite a 4-1 lead, India were held to a 4-4 draw by England.
Full time shared points! Next 💪IND 4:4 ENG #IndiaKaGame #HockeyIndia #B2022… https://t.co/3HT55a9XGD
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) 1659371974000
Taking nothing away from England’s return, the way the game turned heads and the reasons behind it is what the best players in the best teams always strive to avoid.
DECRYPTION OF THE RETURN OF ENGLAND
When Mandeep scored his second goal in the 22nd minute, India were playing with 10 men. Defender Varun Kumar had received a yellow card in the 19th minute for a suspension of five minutes. But India held on, Varun returned to the pitch and at half time, trailing 0-3, England were looking at a mayhem.
But what that one-man advantage for five minutes before half-time did was it allowed England to regroup and find momentum. They managed three shots at the Indian post between the 20th and 30th minute. This laid the groundwork for their first goal in the 42nd minute through Liam Ansell. And before the end of the third quarter, Varun was penalized for his second offense with another yellow card.
This time the suspension lasted 10 minutes.
Indian men 🏑the team started well and looked really good against England but towards the last quarter they lost focus and carried on… https://t.co/yNQY0Q5XEb
— Jagbir Singh OLY (@jagbirolympian) 1659416756000
Playing against the run of play, India managed to restore their three-goal lead when Harmanpreet’s whiplash from a penalty corner made it 4-1. But Nicholas Bandurak (47th minute) and Phillip Roper (50th) brought England within a goal of equalizing. It was 4-3 at this point.
Roper’s goal, in fact, showed that the situation and losing a man played a big part in the minds of Indian players. The England striker’s straddling run from the left of the Indian circle ended with him pushing the ball past goalkeeper PR Sreejesh at the near post from a zero angle. It doesn’t happen often.
But the “card” game didn’t stop there. Gurjant Singh also received a yellow card – a raised stick deemed too dangerous by the referee, who penalized the Indian striker with a 10-minute suspension instead of the usual five for a yellow card. India were down to nine players for three minutes in the fourth quarter, after which Varun came back from his second suspension to make it 10 players on the pitch.
But at the moment India had nine players on the pitch, in the 53rd minute Bandurak scored his second goal and the equalizer to delight the home fans.
A game that seemed to be firmly in India’s hands ended in a tie with England. However, with one game less than England, captain Manpreet Singh’s side can still finish top of Pool B.
But this game must undergo a serious post-mortem by the Indian think-tank. The indiscipline that led to the yellow cards needs to be addressed by coach Graham Reid and then playing the situation rather than the ball is where India were discovered in the final quarter. However, there is no doubt that defending with nine players against 11 in modern hockey is a very difficult task.
“The only reason the game ended in a 4-4 draw when we were leading 4-1 in the fourth quarter was because we totally lost our discipline with two yellow cards and were down to nine men for majority of the fourth quarter, not because we played badly,” former India captain Viren Rasquinha wrote on Twitter.
Rasquinha, who runs Olympic Gold Quest, went on to point out that players who are not sanctioned for a punishable offense in the domestic circuit lead to bad habits when they go international.
“Whether the two yellow cards warranted a 10-minute suspension each (for Varun and Gurjant) or not is debatable, but they were both 100% yellow cards. Just because referees don’t penalize dangerously high sticks in national hockey doesn’t mean our players aren’t affected. will get away with the same in international hockey.
“When referees don’t call such fouls in domestic hockey, it leads to bad habits for which India is punished. Imagine if this same situation were to happen in the fourth quarter of an Olympic final. Much of the Discipline in hockey is focus I can’t afford stupid fouls that hurt the team,” Rasquinha, the Junior World Cup winner and Asain Games silver medalist, said in another tweet.
Simply put, India went from glittering to desolate in a two-halve story on Monday.
The Indian men will now play back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday against Canada and Wales respectively, and a much more disciplined effort will be expected from the team, which had to come back without a medal from the last edition of the CWG in 2018, after losing the bronze medal game to England 2-1.