Rupinder nets brace on return

FINE DASH: India's S V Sunil (left) attempts to get past Tarrant Blair of New Zealand in the opening 'Test' match on Thursday. DH Photo/ Srikanta Sharma R

Ace drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh, returning from a hamstring injury that saw him miss last month's Champions Trophy, showed no ring rust whatsoever as India drubbed New Zealand 4-2 in the opening 'Test' match of the three-match series here at SAI on Thursday.

The strapping penalty corner specialist converted two of his chances while youngsters Mandeep Singh and Harmanpreet Singh scored one apiece to kick-start India's Asian Games preparations on the right note.

"I'm playing after a long break. I feel fine physically. I'm really motivated. This is the first time I've played in this new jersey," a delighted Rupinder said after the match. 

Rupinder though rued the fact that they couldn't play a 'Test' match in front of an audience. With Hockey India choosing to play all matches at the SAI campus which is totally out of bounds for public, the match was watched by just a handful of journalists.

"Obviously, I'd love to play in front of a crowd. If people are cheering for us, it encourages us more," said Rupinder.

New Zealand coach Darren Smith also echoed the same thoughts. "It would be nice to have a stadium and a full house but I have no problems."

An official involved in the conduct of the matches said they chose to play at SAI because of logistical reasons. "We would have played at the hockey stadium but there are a host of challenges. Lack of proper dressing rooms and a watchtower are two major issues. There's very little time to sort them out."

Despite the lack of spectators, India started the contest on a rousing note and earned a penalty corner as early as in the second minute. Rupinder fired the ball low to beat New Zealand goalkeeper Richard Joyce to put India ahead.

The visitors had an opportunity to equalise in the seventh minute but India goalkeeper Krishan Pathak was attentive, making a fine save.

India doubled their lead in the 15th minute when Manpreet Singh's cross was brilliantly picked up by forward Mandeep, who swiftly deflected it into the goal.

New Zealand looked a more composed unit in the second quarter as they started to gain a hold of the proceedings. Four minutes from halftime, they reduced the deficit to 1-2, thanks to Stephen Jenness' fine strike.

India came roaring back after the interval. Rupinder made it 3-1 in the 34th minute before Harmanpreet banged in the fourth four minutes later. India then chose to safeguard their lead, allowing New Zealand to come at them. 

The Black Sticks created plenty of chances but could convert only one of them in the 55th minute through Jenness.

The second 'Test' will be played on Saturday.

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Rupinder nets brace on return

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