Providence may well have played a part in India’s victory over the World Champions in the first match, but fortune favours the brave and notwithstanding a defeat to Belgium in the second encounter of the Pro League, the Indians walked off the Kalinga pitch with their heads held high.
The gritty 2-1 win in Match 1 was a sight to behold but the Indians kept Belgium at bay, on February 9, as well before going down 2-3 which speaks volumes about the tenacity of a team that looks quite capable now of making Pro League history.
It was a moment to cherish for the Indian hockey team and their ardent fans, on February 8 evening, as Manpreet Singh and co. emerged victorious against the best hockey team in the world.
It’s one thing to defeat a half-strength Belgian outfit as part of a tour as the Indians did last year – but, quite another to outshine the marauding Red Lions fresh from victories over Australia and New Zealand over the last couple of weeks.
While the Belgians may argue that the ball meandered tantalizingly close the Indian goal and may have crossed the line on another day, it wasn’t just fate that came into play amidst the downpour at Kalinga.
Two Indian custodians – a seasoned veteran and an upcoming star stretched, dived, leaned and took many a body blow to ensure that the Indians ended up on the winning side and moved up a slot in the world rankings at least for the time being.
Sreejesh has done it before while Krishan Pathak showed us why he is just the one who is most capable of filling the stalwart’s shoes with some vital goalmouth saves.
Young Raj Kumar Pal darted in and around the Belgian circle like an arrow surprising the defence with his speed and guile which allowed the senior strikers to move up unchallenged.
The Indian runners charged down the Belgian drag-flickers time and again as a result of which the visitors were unable to convert 12 of the 13 PCs they earned, and the end result could have been dramatically different if Shane McLeod’s team had done better with the short corners.
On Sunday, the Indians took the field as the World No. 4 side and the spring in their step was evident even before the opening whistle sounded.
Despite going down by an early goal, the Indians never allowed Belgium to dominate the proceedings with Surender Kumar and Lalit Upadhyay giving us a glimpse of their impeccable stick skills.
Some outstanding defensive work saved Belgium the blushes in Match 2 after the Indians managed 28 circle entries and unleashed 11 shots on goal as compared to the Belgians who engineered 19 circle entries and managed to fire 9 shots on target.
Ironically, the stats were heavily loaded in Belgium’s favour in Match 1 but the result went India’s way.
What was particularly encouraging from India’s point of view was the manner in which the team fought as a unit and attacked the opposition with a sense of purpose without being cowed down for the entire duration of both matches.
Graham Reid’s boys displayed without a shadow of a doubt that the wins against the Dutch were no flash in the pan and that the team is clicking as a whole.
Whether by accident or design, the Pro League schedule involves India playing the top three teams in the world one after the other at home and a similar result against Australia will do wonders for India’s campaign.
Nothing seems impossible, at the moment, for an aggressive and cohesive Indian squad that seems intent on making an early impression ahead of a busy Pro League season which precedes Tokyo 2020.