At last, a win win for India at the Hockey World Cup!
The Hague: Tactics and strategies have their place. But sometimes, clean, old defensive methods bring you home in matches which suddenly show signs of turning on their heads.
Akashdeep Singh celebrates his goal against Malaysia on Saturday
India surely made it tough going against Malaysia but coasted home with a 3-2 score-line and their first win in the World Cup. Now they have four points with a match in hand against Australia.
At the moment, India are fourth in the pool with Australia, Belgium and England above them.
Even though India would be relieved to gain three points, the coaching staff who shouted themselves hoarse during the game would be mighty pleased with the coming of age of Akashdeep Singh whose two goals helped India's cause.
At one stage, India seemed to be pulling away like a top runner in a 400 mts track race, but Malaysia ensured India had one eye on the clock as they ran down the Indian defence but couldn't find the equalizer a second time in the match.
India's high-performance Director, Roelant Oltmans, did say, a bigger score-line would have been good but said it was pleasing to see how India adapted to the pressure. "They played very well," he explained. "They executed what was asked and it was good to see them defend the score and walk away winners."
It was an intense struggle and India made it difficult for themselves. If they had popped in the one-to-one chances, they would have scored half a dozen. But erratic finishes and an eager-beaver attitude didn't help forwards like Mandeep Singh or SV Sunil.
In the second half, with the scores at 2-1 in India's favour, Sunil had the ball on the right flank and he raced down like a seasoned sprinter, in the end spraying the ball over the Malaysian goal.
Mandeep had a similar chance and instead of using the space to place the ball, he shot over the goal post.
India opened the scoring with Jasjit Singh Kular when a free ball rolled of India's second penalty corner. Jasjit's flash-shot found the corner of the goal.
India had the space and the territorial superiority in the first half but couldn't manage to convert it into goals. Four penalty corners went abegging and the coaches would now have to work over-time to get the battery going when they face reigning champions Australia in the next match.
The second half saw better momentum from the Indians. Sardar, shouted himself hoarse, getting the players to fall in place and maintain a structure. Malaysia was using the middle of the field to cut through with a few loose balls. In the 46th minute, Malaysia was rewarded with a penalty corner, their third and the conversion had them equalizing 1-1.
It was Rupinder Pal who snatched the ball off a Malaysian forward in the midfield and surged forward in the 49th minute. From the top of the circle, his flat hit was deflected in by Akashdeep, who had his back to the Malaysian goal. It was a suave finish.
Sardar Singh who was keeping himself back suddenly found space in the middle and surged through with the ball, moving like a bare-foot person having to skip past glass strewn on the turf. Four Malaysians were left in his wake and his cross found Akashdeep who turned a rising ball into the Malaysian goal.
India wanted more. And they could have had the goals but Mandeep and Lalit after a bout of brilliant ball-play in the circle didn't quite manage to put muscle behind the shot.
Nine minutes remaining in the match, India had to create a pressure situation when they allowed Malaysia to score off a field goal by Marhan Jalil.