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The stick magicians add to the fairytale

This one was a heart-stopper. A real killer. It ended with 03:35 on the electronic scoreboard ticking away to 00:00 at the Gangseo Hockey Stadium. It ended there. It also ended at 4-3.

india Updated: Oct 11, 2002 01:12 IST

This one was a heart-stopper. A real killer. It ended with 03:35 on the electronic scoreboard ticking away to 00:00 at the Gangseo Hockey Stadium. It ended there. It also ended at 4-3.

It ended after Gagan Ajit Singh received, turned and scooped - all in one single motion - latching on to Dhanraj Pillay's pass of the year towards the Pakistan goal, over an advanced Pakistani goalkeeper Muhammad Qasim. Gagan stood still, gaping at the long looping ball, flying in a painfully slow motion, saw it drop around the top right corner and land outside. It actually took only milliseconds. The ball flew in like a rocket.

Gagan was not sure what had happened. All he remembers is the ball coming his way from Pillay, beating three men in one stroke and then, the scoop. The rest is a blur. The umpire Jin So Han woke Gagan up, waving for the goal, and that it was a dream was made true with Pillay's bear hug.

The rest of the three and a half minutes were torture for Pakistan, who were fighting for time, and for India, who couldn't wait to see it pass. Both with a man down - Muhammad Nadeem out with a red and Indian skipper Dilip Tirkey out with a yellow with seven minutes to go - fought it out for entirely different aims.

Then it erupted. Crazy scenes were enacted at the Gangseo turf. It must have even shaken the usually jolly Korean. The Indian tricolour flew in all its splendour and leading the parade was its talisman, its brightest jewel. It was hard to restrain Pillay. He seemed to be on a high. On a different plane from the rest- only this time the rest of them seemed keen on joining in.

The Pakistanis will tell you. They paid for the journey. And for a good while, they seemed dead intent on walking away with the refund. The scorecard will tell you: India, Pakistan, India, Pakistan, India, Pakistan, India. If this was a rollercoaster, it was downright giddy. But it began cautiously. Like champion heavyweights measuring the other with 'try out' jabs. And just as you jotted down, "Cautious begin/India more share" in your note pad, Jugraj Singh had already found Pillay with a hit-in. The master just tapped it in, and ran straight into Tirkey's arms. 1-0. Five minutes.

And that was the end of the leisure writing in the pad as Pakistan replied five minutes later, Sohail Abbas making the most through a drag flick of the first penalty cornet that came his way.

The sparring had begun. An attack on the Pakistani goal resulted in a fracas between Daljit Singh and Muhammad Saqlain. Play was held up. The umpire Murray Grime sent the two to their tents for the 10-minute penalty. Then it was back to business.

Pillay had lots to offer. Bimal Lakra who had the game of his life, had a hit-in in the 21st minute from the right. The ball ricocheted off Qasim's pads to Pillay who slammed it home. Five minutes later came the Pakistani riposte. Again it was Abbas. Then came the second spat. Deepak Thakur brought down Qasim, play was held up for 10 minutes and yellow card flashed.

Half time came with Pillay giving Saqlain quite an earful for a feigned foul.

In the 44th minute, Daljit put India 3-2 up. The issue looked sealed. Pakistan pushed with all their might and India left only Thakur upfront. With the crowd in defence came the penalty corners. But this time Chauhan was more than equal to Abbas's flicks.

It got worse for Pakistan with 25 minutes to go when Nadeem was shown the red card for a foul on Thakur. But Tirkey left - yellow carded -- and India were down like their rivals to 10 men.

Soon , Pakistan equalised. Muhammad Shabbir gleefully put in a ball from the right. But then with 3:35 minutes to go, fighting cramps, fed on a ball by Lakra, Pillay waited. He had not touched the ball. He just ran behind it, as three Pakistanis emerged from their circle. He looked up and from the top of the circle saw Gagan on the left. The rest was just a blur.

First Published: Oct 11, 2002 01:12 IST