Drag-flickers Sandeep Singh and VR Raghunath struck golden goals on Thursday off penalty-corners to seal semifinal berths for their teams, Haryana and Karnataka respectively, in the Senior National Hockey Championships.
The duo proved once again that penalty-corner has emerged as the most potent means of scoring in hockey in the last couple of decades. However for India, penalty-corner is a perpetual Achilles’ heel as they have failed to capitalise on this mode of scoring.
Till the time players used powerful hits off PCs, there was some hope for India, but once the Dutch introduced drag-flicks, India's problems compounded, barring a brief period when Jugraj Singh ruled the roost. Going by the rate of PC conversion at the ongoing Championships here, one can safely say that teams are still struggling. In the 52 matches played here so far, 456 PCs have been awarded. Of these, only 124 have been converted, a poor conversion rate of 28 per cent.
Agreed that not all teams had good PC experts and there were problems with the turf at the Aishbagh Stadium, this conversion rate is still very poor. Raghunath scored nine goals in four games, while Sandeep converted eight PCs.
“(Poor) Penalty-corner conversion is a big worry. Though Sandeep unleashes one of the most powerful drag-flicks in hockey today, his consistency and rate of conversion is not very good," admitted Olympian and selector Col Balbir Singh. He said at the moment Sandeep is India's best bet. “Rupinderpal Singh looks fit for the job. He has a good built and ability to tackle, though his flick is not as powerful as Sandeep,” opined Balbir. Hockey India has appointed Jugraj Singh to scout for talent. However, going by statistics at the Nationals, Jugraj has a tough task at hands.