Star-studded Air India and Karnataka had faced contrasting problems as they failed to find their rhythm in their opening matches of the Hockey India Senior National Hockey Championship.
Air India, with a number of India players in the line-up, found the going tough on Saturday, as the dry turf at the Aishbagh Stadium produced uneven bounce. Still, they managed to beat Chhattisgarh 8-2.
Karnataka's problem was peculiar. The team comprises players from the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), who play against each other in the Karnataka league and in domestic competitions. Karnataka, who have players like Amar Aiyamma, Irshad Ali, Hariprasad (all BPCL), Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh and Raghunath (IOC) got off to a modest start with 6-0 verdict against Assam when teams like Railways, Punjab were getting into double figures.
The two teams found the rhythm as they thumped their opponents to register second wins in their respective pools, Air India outclassed Kerala 18-0 while Karnataka thrashed Rajasthan 14-2. Both have six points from two wins. India striker Shivendra Singh and midfielder Vikram Pillay blasted home five goals apiece for Air India while Aiyamma top-scored for Karnataka with four.
The two thus remained on course for a big-ticket quarterfinal clash in the last eight stage - unless Uttar Pradesh throw a spanner in the works by grounding Air India in the final Pool 'D' clash on Tuesday and Chandigarh do the same to Karnataka in the Pool 'C' decider.
Uttar Pradesh impressed again in their 8-1 win over Chhattisgarh in a match that was stopped for around 10 minutes by heavy rain.
While the big names found their bearings on the field, there was some respite for the players as showers, moderate to heavy, lashed the city, which has witnessed a deluge of goals. Nearly 300 goals have been scored in 28 matches as the tournament reached the halfway stage.
The crucial phase starts from Monday as the pool leaders will be decided with the competition getting tougher. Quarterfinal berths in Pool 'A', 'E', 'F' and 'H' will be decided. Tamil Nadu meet Punjab to decide the quarterfinal berth from Pool 'A' while Orissa and MP Academy will fight it out in Pool 'H'. The Pool 'E' decider will have Services taking on Jharkhand while Maharashtra meet Haryana in a crucial Pool 'F' match with the winner virtually through to the last eight.