India rally to hold S Africa

Hosts clinch series 3-1 after a 3-3 draw in final tie

India fought back from three goals down to draw 3-3 against South Africa in the fifth and last match of the hockey ‘Test’ series at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here on Sunday. 

TRIUMPHANT The Indian hockey teammembers after claiming the five-match ‘test’ series against South Africa in NewDelhi on Sunday. PTI

India, thus, won the series 3-1. A lacklustre home side was cagey in the first half and their defence was in tatters as the South Africans ran amok, scoring through Ricky West (26th minute), Ian Haley (31st) and Miguel Da Graca (34th).

Stung, the Indians raised their game in the second half and drew parity through Yuvraj Walmiki (43rd), V R Raghunath (49th) and S K Uthappa (66th).

However, the draw never looked a possibility in the first 35 minutes, which was dominated by the South Africans with some superb passing and tackling.

It was a measured start from the two sides but the visitors broke the stalemate when Julian Hykes, dodging a line of defenders on the right flank, flicked a pass to West, who tapped the ball in.

Haley doubled the lead within five minutes, hitting hard a loose ball past goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. The sparse gathering had barely recovered from these onslaughts when a minute before the half-time, an unmarked Da Graca lunged to connect his stick to a precise pass from the right flank.

India went into the break for some stern talk and tactical tweaking and returned with purpose. The defence was now more structured, the aggression was back and they pressed the South African backline with the midfield led by Sardar Singh and Tushar Khandkar beginning to carve out openings.

The hosts came close to scoring in the opening minutes when Uthappa from the left flicked the ball to Khandkar but Shivendra couldn’t trap his pass.

However, the Indians soon found things going their way when Sardar drove the ball from the top of the circle into the goalmouth to an unmarked Walmiki, who touched in.

Indians kept up the pressure and Raghunath converted their fourth penalty corner with a clean strike. A few minutes later, captain Sarvanjit Singh and Uthappa played a deft one-two before the latter slammed in a quick shot for the equaliser.

Indian coach Michael Nobbs admitted the team was a bit ‘complacent’ in the first half but praised them for their comeback. “Coming back from 3-0 is a terrific result. We have been behind in a number of games in the last five months and we have come back. This is a good team.”

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