World No 11 India and forward Yuvraj Walmiki both announced their return to major international hockey with a bang on Saturday with a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over World No 4 England in their Champions Trophy opener at Melbourne.
First big test
This was Team India’s first international encounter (they played in the Lanco Superseries before this, but that was a nine-a-side event) after their wooden-spoon finish at the London Olympics. Similarly, it was Yuvraj’s first international encounter since he suffered a hamstring injury in India’s Olympic qualifier-winning campaign in New Delhi last February.
Consequently, he didn’t make it to the team for the Azlan Shah Cup and thereafter missed the Olympic bus too, as selectors felt the injury would worsen if rushed back in to competitive hockey. On Saturday, the 22-year-old played his heart out at Melbourne’s Hockey Centre, scoring once to give the Men in Blue a 2-1 lead, and thereafter earning a crucial penalty corner through which the lead was further increased to 3-1 — as India stunned the 2009 European champions.
Richard Smith scored the game’s opening goal off England’s maiden in the 14th minute before which Danish Mujtaba reverse flicked the ball home (22nd minute) to restore parity. Walmiki then scored off a neat reflex-action deflection to give India the lead in the 38th minute. He then earned a penalty corner by breaching the English defence in the 66th minute, and an indirect conversion saw Gurwinder Singh Chandi seal England’s fate. “It’s great to be back, not only playing for the country but also scoring a crucial goal in the bargain,” Walmiki told SUNDAY MiD DAY from Melbourne yesterday.
“The injury was heart-breaking, especially since I missed the Olympics, but I think the break has done wonders to my fitness. Some may say that this is not the same England side that finished fourth in London (as many of their experienced players have opted to make way for the juniors) but this Indian team is young too (coach Michael Nobbs has rested a host of senior players like goalkeeper Bharat Chetri, drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, Tushar Khandekar, Gurbaj Singh, etc) so we deserve full credit for this win,” added Walmiki.
Speaking of his goal, the Mumbai lad said: “It was an untimely deflection from one of the English defenders and the ball was just about to fall behind me (in front of the English goal) and with one action I just drove it home. Coach Nobbs was impressed later and said that we should be scoring more such opportunistic goals.
India, the lowest ranked team in the prestigious competition and placed in Pool A alongside World No 1 Germany and No 6 New Zealand besides England, take on the Kiwis on Sunday. World No 2 Australia, No 3 Netherlands, No 8 Belgium and No 9 Pakistan comprise Pool B.
Netherlands 3-1 Pakistan
Germany 3-2 New Zealand
Australia 4-2 Belgium