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Khandekar restores some pride for India

A semblance of normality returned to Indian hockey with the two-time Asian Games champions, coming back from the debacle against Malaysia, overcame a not-so-impressive South Korea to lay their hands on bronze at the Aoti Sports Centre on Thursday.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2010 02:34 IST
Ajai Masand

A semblance of normality returned to Indian hockey with the two-time Asian Games champions, coming back from the debacle against Malaysia, overcame a not-so-impressive South Korea to lay their hands on bronze at the Aoti Sports Centre on Thursday.

Something is better than nothing, goes the saying. Perhaps, that was India's motto when they took the field charged up.

Some pride was restored by Tushar Khandekar in the 40th minute and the team held on to the solitary-goal lead for the next 70 minutes to bring tears of joy to the embattled bunch.

Even as coach in-charge, Harendra Singh, who had submitted his resignation after the 3-4 defeat to Malaysia in the semifinals, cried inconsolably on captain, Rajpal Singh's, shoulder at the sidelines, there were many moist eyes in the crowd, who saw this energetic team come up with a sterling display before Pakistan and Malaysia trooped in to play the final.

It was the livewire and gritty goalkeeper, Bharat Chhetri, who first withstood the Korean penalty-corner onslaught --- he saved two certain goals in the first half, leaping to clear the ball out of harm's way with his stick and then stretching full length to stall a full-blooded ground-hugging shot --- and then effected another save in the second half to leave the Koreans frustrated.

In the 40th minute, Gurbaj Singh sent a scorching cross to Khandekar from the right near the goalline, which was easily deflected into the goal. Unlike the Malaysian encounter, where the Indian defence could not hold on to the lead in the last two minutes, it was a revelation that it held firm for 30 minutes.

It was a day when Chhetri and defender Sardar Singh were the toast of the crowd. He played the best match of the tournament, building attacks, blocking the Korean forwards and cleverly relaying the ball to the frontline.

"The aim with which we had come here could not be completed. But we learnt a big lesson in ball-control from the match against Malaysia and applied it here," said Rajpal, who cried too after the emotional victory.

On whether off-the-field happenings, in the wake of the semifinal loss, were weighing on the team's mind, Rajpal said, "We don't think about all those things when we are playing a match.

"In the last 18 months we have learnt a lot from Brasa. It's up to the government to decide whether to retain him or not, but certainly we need a good coach if we nurture dreams of qualifying for the London Olympics," said Rajpal. "*Brasa ka poora haath hai* in India's success (Brasa has played a big role in India's success. We played the Champions Challenge in Salta and won bronze, then we bagged a silver at the Commonwealth Games and now this bronze here," he said.

"Showering praise on Chhetri, Rajpal said that the player from Siliguri played really well and "we owe it to him". "The way we held on to the solitary-goal lead makes us sad that we lost to Malaysia in the last two minutes," he added.

Bereft of any emotions that the Indians displayed, Brasa said on the ongoing team officials' resignation controversy that, "Indians use emotions, not dimaage (brains)." But he was really sore that the sports ministry had still kept him waiting for the contract. "My term will be over on Tuesday, but still no response. There are many more issues I keep writing to ministry officials, but no one seems to listen or reply."

But for now, India would be flying back home on Friday, with some pride restored.