One of the most common complaints levied against franchise-based sports leagues is that the instant fame and riches tend to make the players - the rookies in particular - lackadaisical about the game itself.
Sandeep Singh, though, is no newbie - his exploits in last year's
Olympic qualifying tournament immediately spring to mind. Given his credentials, one would imagine that he would know how to keep his head. In fact, he needs to - having been axed from the national squad post the London debacle, he has a point to prove.
Unfortunately, the (admittedly limited) evidence so far has been to the contrary. The signs were visible even during the pre-match practice on Tuesday evening - of his six penalty corners, Mumbai's marquee player found the target only once.
The chance to prove that those misses were minor blips on the radar presented itself within 24 hours. The setting was familiar: National Stadium, the very venue where he had struck 16 goals, including five in the final, to help India make a comeback to the Olympics last winter.
With Ric Charlesworth's team sorely missing four Pakistanis, especially the three in the middle, they understandably adopted a cautious approach that harped on defence. It worked for the first quarter-and-a-half - when Delhi went on the offensive, as many as eight Mumbai players fell back. The marking stood out, too — Delhi's forwards Imran Khan and Lloyd Norris Jones were shadowed by Sandeep and Gagandeep Singh, respectively.
In such a defensive game, it was bound to come down to set-pieces. In the 27th minute, Rupinderpal Singh scored off the second of the back-to-back penalty corners to hand Delhi the lead. Just a couple of minutes later, skipper Sandeep had his first chance at redeeming things, both for himself and his side. His first miss, though, was not his fault —Mumbai’s first penalty corner of the night was not cleanly stopped.
A minute after Delhi made it 2-0 — Norris Jones scoring the only field goal of the night — Mumbai got another penalty corner. This time, Sandeep hit home. The next two flicks did not produce an equaliser; with the third, though, Sandeep found Andres Mir Bel's arm — and a penalty stroke, with less than 50 seconds on the clock.
The skipper stepped up to the spot and let it fly, high and left, and started celebrating the snatched point. Prematurely so - the ball hit the left goalpost, and then the right, before being snapped up by goalie Nicolas Jacobi. The umpires ruled against a goal. Sandeep did not agree, neither did Charlesworth, but the damage was done.
Rhinos beat Warriors
Ranchi Rhinos defeated Jaypee Punjab Warriors 2-1 in Jalandhar. Ashley Jackson and Mandeep Singh scored for the Rhinos, while Kieran Govers scored for the Warriors.