Thursday, Jul 18, 2002
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Indian Airlines 2 Bengal 0
Virender Singh (left), who scored both the goals for Indian Airlines, is congratulated by Dhanraj Pillay in the quarterfinal match against Bengal XI in the all-India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament in Chennai on Wednesday.
While the star-studded Indian Airlines defeated Bengal XI, IOC got the better of an insipid IHF junior XI, both victories being by an identical 2-0 margin. The two winners will face each other in one semifinal on Friday. Thursday is a rest day.
Considering the line-up featuring names like Dhanraj Pillay, Mukesh Kumar, Mohd. Riaz, Dilip Tirkey and Lazarus Barla, all Olympians, among others, the moderate gathering can be excused if they had expected Airlines to produce a sizzling exhibition.
But barring flashes of a Dhanraj touch or an occasional dash of Mukesh, there was little forthcoming from the champion side. In fact much of the second session was dominated by the Bengal team which carried out several close moves, Gurdhyan Singh being the key man in the thick of action, yet the inability to show class at the finish cost the underdogs dear.
Yet, the start had promised much. Expectedly Mukesh and Dhanraj caught the eye early, only to be baulked. Lot closer was the seventh-minute action when a Prabodh Tirkey shot from the top of the `D' evoked a feeble block by Bengal custodian Chandan Debnath. Dhanraj does not miss such rebounds but this time was found wanting. Minutes later Airlines failed with its first penalty corner.
The most productive phase came thereafter. Dhanraj, with two Bengal players in tow and nearing the circle, neatly sent the ball to Virender Singh in front of the goal. A quick sweep and the Bengal citadel had fallen. That 20th-minute breakthrough was followed by another two minutes later with the scorer being the same, but with Mukesh and Rawat doing the spade work this time.
On hindsight the Airlines' enterprise effectively ended there for the second session witnessed a surprise come-back effort by Bengal.
The very third minute of resumption saw Gurdhyan Singh laying the ball for Sunil Surin to do the rest, but in the crowd of legs, the ball deflected away harmlessly. A short while later, Gurdhyan went down trying to tap home off a Niral-Edmund Karketta combined work. The crowd loved this change of tide. Bengal then won its first penalty corner award. But it requires a different skill to score. The Bengal attack only raised expectations.
Earlier, IHF juniors failed to show any fight against IOC in a slow-paced encounter. With a clutch of leading players, including current internationals, IOC looked superior on paper. And this became clear with the way skipper Deepak Thakur and Prabhjoth Singh gave early horrors to the IHF end. In the 13th minute one such combined move produced a goal, Thakur centring from the near flank and Prabhjoth slamming in the ball in a jiffy.
IOC kept the young rivals on a tight leash. Indeed, had Kamlesh Kumar first and then Lakhwinder Singh not wasted chances, IOC should have changed ends with more than the 1-0 margin shown on the scoreboard. Still, from the little resistance that IHF showed, mention has to be made of Nitin Kumar's neat work in trapping and clearing the ball.
A momentary defence lapse almost helped IHF juniors equalise soon after resumption, but Hariprasad, from close, fired wide. IOC consolidated its position in the 47th minute through Prabhjoth again after Thakur had veered in down the right. Even though the IHF boys tended to show more teeth in the attack by the later stages, the focus was on whether Prabhjoth would get a hat-trick. The young man tried hard, came close, but the feat eluded him.
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