Strykers keep date with thrillers
Pune team plays 1-1 draw with Bhopal Badshahs
There is something about Pune Strykers and thrillers in the inaugural Bridgestone World Series Hockey. There were two good teams, two good coaches, tight midfield displays from both sides and finally two goals were shared equally in probably one of the best match of the tournament till date, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Young Affan Yousuf rescued Bhopal Badshahs in the dying seconds as the visitors scrambled home with honours intact against the rampaging Strykers.
This was the first match played on Pune Strykers home ground and they had young penalty-corner specialist Gurpreet Singh to thank for providing them to a flying start, with a goal in the 27th minute. The 25-year-old Gurpreet now heads the individual goals tally with Pakistani drag-flicker Imran Warsi with eight goals each for the ‘Golden Stick’ race. However, the Badshahs proved they could absorb pressure and came back strongly towards the ‘death’ in the match. Yousuf sounded the board from a goalmouth melee which followed after they were awarded two consecutive penalty-corners in the final phase of the match.
It was the second draw for the Strykers in four matches and they are the only team to remain undefeated in the tournament. With two wins and an equal number of draws, Pune leads the eight-team league with eight points, one ahead of Sher-E-Punjab and the Badshahs.
True to its form, the Strykers were on top of the action from the first minute of the game. Playing their fourth match, first on home soils, the hosts were all over the places in both halves except for the last 10 minutes. On the other hand, the Badshahs played a wait-and-watch tactics by design, and came out strongly in the last quarter, and walked away with equal honours.
Argentine Mario Almada – ‘Player of the Match’ today – spun magic around the Badshahs defenders, and created many goal-scoring moves. Sharp movers Damandeep Singh, Roshan Minz, Bikash Toppo and Lungile Tsolekile also had the Bhopal defenders guessing on numerous occasions. Ajay Kumar and goalkeeper Baljit Singh withstood the early pressure with good support coming from Pakistan import Waseem Ahmad, but the team conceded a number of penalty corners, especially in the first half. Though the Gurpreet Singh failed to convert the first two PCs, he set the Municipal turf on fire by finding the target with the third PC.
Usually flamboyant, Bhopal adopted a patient gameplan, and was content in occasional counterattacks and packing its defence with almost half a dozen players. Local lads and brothers, Vinod and Vikas Pillay excelled in patches amidst thunderous applause. Vikas in particular was unstoppable with his sprints. He was badly tripped in the closing moments of third quarter. He drew even more applause when taken out of field on a stretcher. This one-off incident apart, the game was clean and full of thrills, and kept the crowd on its feet.
Schedule for March 8:
Chandigarh Comets vs Sher-E-Punjab at Sector 42 Stadium, Chandigarh 7pm; Karnataka Lions vs Mumbai Marines at KSHA Stadium, Bengaluru, 9pm.