Cheetahs take flight to Chennai, Pune dash to Mumbai
- End of Chennai Cheetahs run as they lose steam to Mumbai Marines 1-4
- Xess Banmali (3rd min), Ajmer Singh (32nd min), Troy Sutherland (62nd min) & Aijib Ekka (70th min) score for Marines
- Syed Imran Wari reduces the margin for Cheetahs in the 65th min
The match was something of an anti-climax. Cheetahs were reduced to a bundle of nerves in 65 minutes trailing 3-0 as Syed Imran Warsi, whom everyone had dreaded facing for the last 30 days, evoked nothing more than a wry smile from a rival defender as he struck his first drag-flick goal of the day with just five minutes remaining, leaving many with the sinking feeling that the league had come to an abrupt end for the mesmerising and talented Chennai Cheetahs.
Marines’ international flavour, Troy Sutherland, however, takes home some sweet memories despite his team finishing last in the league, playing a role in at least three goals as they crushed the semifinal hopes for Cheetahs with a 4-1 win in the 56th match, the last of the league matches in the inaugural Bridgestone World Series Hockey here at the MHA Mahindra Stadium on Friday. It will take some time for the wounds to heal for Brent Livermore and his boys as their stay in Mumbai has been cut short by a team which finished last. But, Marines’ gritty determination to win even when there were hardly any stakes in this match, is what the Bridgestone WSH is all about – all the great eight teams throwing everything at each other.
In fact, Marines did a great job in the defence and held the ball for longer periods and their skipper Adrin D’Souza was brilliant in the goal to deny the all-important win for Cheetahs. A late goal four minutes from time for Warsi, following a set-piece, only reduced the margin for the Cheetahs and made the drag-flicker top the individual goalscorers’ list. It was no consolation though as Pune Strykers, cheering the Marines and hoping for a Marines win, will now take the final semifinal slot. Even as one thought the match ended, Aijub Ekka rubbed salted into the wounds of Cheetahs, smashing a last-minute goal from around the spot.
Earlier in the first half, the Marines took an unassailable 2-0 lead at half-time, scoring once in each quarter while Adrian D’Souza led from the front making two great saves to stop Warsi from converting his drag-flicks at the other end.
The hosts opened their account in the very 4th minute through an opportunistic field goal where an alert Banmali Xess hung on to a loose ball and punished it with a stunning reverse hit after teammate Sutherland did the initial spade work. Sutherland was again in the thick of action in the second quarter when he was brought down by rival custodian Santosh Kumar as he was just about to hit the ball home, and the umpire had no hesitation in pointing to the dreaded spot. Ajmer Singh, who took the penalty stroke for Marines in the 21st minute drew the goalie to the wrong side as the ball zoomed into the right corner of the net.
Thereafter, Chennai attacked with great vigour but they fumbled with as many as seven penalty corners with Adrian guarding the Marines goal stubbornly. Prabodh Tirkey too made a wonderful goalline save on one occasion. As the second half wore on however, Cheetahs did rally and snatch a goal back, which prompted a fairly entertaining last five minutes as the Marines added insult to the injury with a last-minute goal before the hooter.
The Cheetahs may have been blown off the park in the MHA return, but overall they were oustanding in the inaugural league and produced several magical moments. While Warsi was brilliant with his penalty-corner execution and deserves to be given the credit for stoking the fire for the likes of Len Aiyappa and Gurjinder Singh, their team also threw up some exciting new faces for Indian hockey like Sivamani. Vinod Pillay and K. Santosh to name a few.
SEMIFINALS (APRIL 1, 2012
Sher-E-Punjab (Rank 2 Team) vs Karnataka Lions (Rank 3 Team) at KSHA Stadium, Bengaluru, 7pm.
Chandigarh Comets (Rank 1 Team) vs Pune Strykers (Rank 4 Team) at MHA Mahindra Stadium, Mumbai, 9 pm; Live on Neo Cricket & Neo Sports.