Going into their fifth match of the Hockey India League, the Delhi Waveriders were in a spot of bother. Sure, they were at the top of the table having drawn the only match they had not won, and were scoring goals aplenty from open play. But the conversion of penalty corners - only one in four matches - had emerged as an area of concern; their specialist drag-flicker, Rupinder Pal Singh, under a bit of strain.
"We'd planned to go with a variation," recalled coach AK Bansal on Monday. "But I noticed that Ranchi had fielded their Indian goalie, and signalled the boys to stick to our usual set-play." The decision paid off --- Rupinder converted twice and gained some much-needed confidence, which he carried into the next match against the Mumbai Magicians; his team won both matches to maintain their lead in the standings.
Putting all eggs in one basket is never a good idea, though. And while he insisted that drag-flicking is a highly specialised role to which Rupinder is suited, Bansal did admit to being prepared — in terms of both variations and alternatives.
THE FLIP-SIDE OF CONTROVERSY
Ironically, the alternative only came into being when the league lost its Pakistani players. For Delhi, out went the two Rizwans, and in came two Kiwis — Dean Couzins and Andrew Hayward — the latter having quite a reputation for scoring from penalty corners.
Delhi won its first just 10 minutes into their match against the Punjab Warriors at the National Stadium here on Tuesday. Oskar Deecke was precise with the push-out, as was Tim Jenniskens with the trapping. But Rupinder failed to connect and Bansal's concerns resurfaced, although they were somewhat stymied by the barrage of attacks that followed — and eventually led to the opening goal, Akashdeep Singh showing immaculate control before reverse-hitting into the net.
A minute from the end of the third quarter, the Waveriders won another penalty corner. Deecke pushed and Jenniskens trapped, but Rupinder stayed put behind the line. Hayward struck hard and to the goalie's left, and the hosts finally breathed easy.
About 60 seconds from the hooter and with Punjab on the offensive, an unmarked Simon Child waltzed into the area, striking high and hard to seal Delhi's sixth win out of seven matches, but the first with a margin of more than two goals.
Interestingly, Hayward and Child — and also Couzins — were part of the Black Sticks squad that won the bronze at this very venue back during the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Bansal must be hoping the trio can propel the Waveriders two steps further.
TOP TWO SET TO SLUG IT OUT
It's the battle of the top two. A day after Ranchi Rhinos drew level on points with a win at home against the Mumbai Magicians, the Delhi Waveriders restored their five-point advantage by beating the Punjab Warriors. But the Rhinos won't be easy meat for the hosts, what with both FIH World Player of the Year Moritz Fuertse of Germany and South African Austin Smith expected to be back.