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Top gear: India make it to final

Effervescent hosts enter the gold medal round after beating England in a thrilling tie-breaker. Shubhodeep Chakravarty reports.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2010 02:52 IST
Shubhodeep Chakravarty

There are some thrillers on screen and then there are some played out live. On Tuesday, the National Stadium screened what may be considered as the most nail-biting match in the Commonwealth Games so far, as India pipped England 5-4 in penalty shootout to storm into the final.

Both India and England began the first session on a level footing. Attacks came thick and fast, but it were the hosts who registered first on the scoreboard through a penalty-corner in the 20th minute. Sarvanjit Singh's strike past goalkeeper James Fair was just enough to nudge his team into lead.

Despite a watertight English defence, the Indians managed to think out of the box and matched every run, break and counter that their opponents offered. And, there were quite a few of those as well. The trio of Ashley Jackson, skipper Barry Middleton and Alastair Wilson made brave expeditions into the Indian half but their strikes were repelled just about each time. The efforts though bore fruit in the dying minutes of the first half when Jackson's thunderous strike in his team's first PC levelled the scores.

The second half began on an inauspicious note for India. Two goals in a span of four minutes by Ashley Jackson and Simon Mantell put the visitors ahead. Both the goals came through PCs, and it was clear that anymore would definitely put India out of the match.

But not only did the defence, which has been ordinary at best so far, maintain its composure, it also cleared the ball to relentlessly feed the counter-offensive runs. It was Sandeep's strike in the 56th minute, which found Vikram Pillay's stick on its way to the goal that made the stadium come alive again.

Sarvanjit brought up his second four minutes later to make it 3-3. The rest of the session was dominated by India but it was the sheer brilliance of Fair that ensured that back-to-back attacks were blocked and the match was taken into extra time.

Seventy minutes of play was clearly not enough as Indian forwards, Rajpal Singh, Tushar Khandekar and Shivendra Singh who were ably supported by Arjun Halappa and Sarvanjit Singh, kept bombing the English half. Conversions, though, failed to materialise and the match went into penalty-strokes. Here, it was one stroke of brilliance from custodian Bharat Chhetri, who dove to his right to block a Glen Kirkham shot, which gave India a pass into the final and at least a silver medal from the Games.

The team will now face Australia, who beat New Zealand 6-2 in a lopsided match, on Thursday.