Dhol beats resound again for Sher-E-Punjab
- Chennai Cheetahs go down fighting 2-4 to Sher-E-Punjab
- Bikramjit Singh (13th min), Harpreet Singh (22nd min), Matthew Hotchkis (43rd min) & Gagan Ajit Singh (68th min) strike one each for the Shers
- Adam Sinclair (7th min) and Imran Warsi (32nd min) score for the Cheetahs
Sher-E-Punjab star striker Gagan Ajit Singh proved yet again in the Bridgestone World Series Hockey why he is still one of the most dangerous customers in the ‘D’ here at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium today.
The match was tantalisingly poised against the Brent Livermore-led Cheenai Cheetahs though the Shers enjoyed a slender lead of 3-2 with two agonising minutes left on the clock. The home team appeared to have more steam left and started attacking in waves, but one quick counter-attack from Shers’ star forward Deepak Thakur, who relayed a pass to Gagan, brought a swift end to the local hopes. In the end, the scoreboard suggested a convincing 4-2 win for Sher-E-Punjab but in reality the match went to the wires till the last minute.
The good news for the Punjab fans is that the team is back in form after suffering “a lapse of concentration” in the last couple of matches, though some fans may argue that they were actually bored with the lack of competition. That may not be completely true as the next three teams are breathing down each others’ neck and the Shers can be thankful to Gagan Ajit for making them secured at the top with 25 points – six points more than the second-placed Chandigarh Comets.
Both teams shared four goals at lemon time, but the Shers came out with a goal apiece in the second half from Mathew Hotchkis and Gagan Ajit which titled the scales in favour of the visitors. The Cheetahs drew first blood with a classic field goal. Vikram Pillay split the defence near the 25-yard area and set up the scene for Adam Sinclair running ahead of him on the same line. On confronting goalie Sukhjeet Singh face to face, instead of the expected stopping and hitting, the clever Sinclair pushed the ball low on the run to send to ball to the right corner of the net to the delight of the boisterous Sunday crowd.
Thereafter the penalty corner executioners took the centre stage before Gagan Ajit posted a gem in the closing moments. The speedy Mandeep Antil fetched the Shers’ first penalty corner but Cheetahs goalkeeper Santosh Kumar, clubbing both his legs, stopped Bikramjit Singh’s shot. The newcomer to the PC arena could not be denied his share of limelight for long. The burly defender made quick amends in his second attempt to force parity on the scoreboard. His captain Harpal Singh sold a guile dummy, paving the way for Bikramjeet to bang the ball into the left of the net ahead of Vikram Pillay.
The goal-scoring sequence continued in the second quarter too. A rather lackluster defence by Santosh made Harpreet Singh’s drill too easy. Harpreet drag-flicked to the right top corner, but Santosh, despite spotting the flight, seemed to make a half-hearted interception, only to see his effort go waste.
Cheetahs’ Pakistani import and star drag-flicker Imran Warsi then struck as expected to fetch the second goal before half-time. On his first chance, the Pakistani tornado sent a lightening flick that got deflected from the goalkeeper’s stick to find home. Ten minutes later Mathew Hotchiks did an Sinclair, deflecting Deepak Thakur’s feed into the centre of the cage even as Mark Harris and Santosh came charging at him to silence a huge holiday stands. Brent Livemore went for referral, but umpire Satinder Kumar’s decision stood.
Hunting for full points, Cheetahs strived hard to come back into the game, and created several chances but their forwards failed to finish the moves. Livermore sent a perfect parallel pass from baseline, but it was allowed to roll across the entire goalmouth gently even as a forward dived in vain to connect it. That was the closest the Cheetahs came to scoring but it went up in a smoke. Shivamani brought another chance, a penalty corner, five minutes from time, but Mathew Hotchkis from the right corner deflected Warsi’s deadly flick.
The final twist in the tale came from none other than Thakur, who had been tightly marked in the last three matches. Always ready to pounce on even half-a-chance, the opportunistic Thakur relayed a gentle pass to his team-mate of many years, Gagan Ajit, who completed the formality without much ado.
Schedule for March 25:
Chennai Cheetahs vs Chandigarh Comets at Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium, Chennai, 7pm; Pune Strykers vs Delhi Wizards at Pune; 9pm. Live on Neo Cricket & Neo Sports.