Pune Strykers are the masters of comebacks
- Strykers script superb fightback against Bhopal Badshahs; win 5-4 to move up to fourth position in Bridgestone WSH League
- Simrandeep Randhawa (52nd, 55th & 60th mins) shines with a hat-trick as Nikkin Thimmaiaha (10th min) and Birendra Lakra (68th min) add one apiece for Strykers
- Waseem Ahmad (4th and 50th mins) strikes a brace while Karan Baskaran (7th min) and Affan Yousuf (21st min) score one each for Badshahs
Never mind the excitement building up for the Bridgestone World Series Hockey semifinals on April 1. This was the most sensational hockey match of the league so far.
Goals are supposed to be scarce at the very highest level, so four in 16 minutes amounted to the most incredible sensory overload. It started when Pune Strykers’ Simrandeep Singh Randhawa struck his first goal, his team’s second in the 52nd minute, and then went on to score a sublime hat-trick which brought them at par with Bhopal Badshahs for the first time in the match at 4-4 with 10 minutes remaining on the clock. Then, the pencil-thin Strykers’ Birendra Lakra stabbed them in the heart. He made use of the slack defence to seal the match and put the Strykers in serious contention for the semis for the first time in the league. It was a perfect twist, and not one Badshahs player, forget the thousands sitting in the Aishbagh Stadium, saw it coming. The Strykers also proved they were the masters of comebacks – remember the four-goal blitzkrieg in 22 minutes which shaped their 7-5 victory despite trailing 3-5 against Mumbai Marines in their opening tie on March 1.
However, this was a stone-cold classic, given great poignancy by the sad decline of form of both sides in the latter stage of the league. Both teams desperately wanted to win this match to stay in competition. The Badshahs seemed to be cruising at 4-1, but Strykers willed its way back into the game as Randhawa became their latest penalty-corner icon with three goals in eight minutes and then the remarkable goal-poacher Lakra produced the soul-crushing winner two minutes before the hooter.
Ironically, this brilliant comeback in their last match brings limited success. The Strykers are currently placed fourth in the league but standing within a sniffing distance of a semifinal berth. Their closest rivals, Chennai Cheetahs have 19 points – two points less – but they have a match remaining to play, an away tie against Mumbai Marines on Friday, the last league match of the inaugural edition. That match will decide the last slot for the semifinals.
Back in the Badshahs-Strykers match, a brace from Pakistani import Waseem Ahmad and a goal apiece from the stick of Karan Baskaran and Affan Yousaf put the hosts in a comfortable position early in the match. The packed stands seemed thrilled as the hosts went into the business of scoring straightaway. After Lalit Upadhyay missed a sitter, the evergreen Ahmad showed his class while latching on to a close range rebound to strike the first goal, and then set up two goals for his side before adding another to his tally. The Pakistani midfielder sent a parallel pass from the right baseline which Baskaran gently guided to the left of goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh. Ahmad again set up Yousaf for Badshahs’ third goal.
Undaunted, the Strykers made some inroads but they failed before the charged-up goalkeeper Baljit Singh. Nikkin Thimmaiah got Baljit on the wrong foot to strike the first goal for Strykers. However, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh failed to stop a penalty stroke from Ahmad, who completed his brace. But, instead of consolidating their gains, the Badshahs dug themselves into a defensive mode and let the game fritter away.
The Strykers, who have acquired a repuation as a side that never gives up, made their final assault with 18 minutes left. Randhawa turned the course of the match with his three impeccable conversion and then Lakra had the last say.
Schedule for March 30
: Delhi Wizards vs Sher-E-Punjab at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Delhi, 7pm; Mumbai Marines vs Chennai Cheetahs at MHA Mahindra Stadium, Mumbai, 9pm. Live on Neo Cricket & Neo Sports.