Even before the Indian team could settle into its stride against the reigning Olympic champions and world No 2, England, they were a goal down.
It took England 35 seconds to get their first goal through their skipper Alexander Danson. Thirty five seconds that also seemed to knock India off-balance.
India came into its third Pool A match of the 21st Commonwealth Games under pressure – they were the underdogs. The loss against Wales in their first match has shown that they were not quite the finished article yet and the early goal seemed to only press home the same point.
After the goal, India tried to fight back and a lot of play seemed to happen in England’s half but on most occasions it seemed to be going nowhere. As the first half came to an end, India had taken just two shots on goal.
England, by comparison, had 9 shots on goal and had looked very impressive going forward. They were kept at bay by a brilliant Savita and that proved to be a vital stand.
If the Olympic champions had managed to get another goal, it might have led to a complete breakdown but India hung in there and managed to go into half-time with the score still 1-0. They put their bodies on the line and it was exactly what was needed.
Harendra’s magic talk
We have seen it happen before in this tournament and we saw it happen again today. The India that took the field after the break was not the India that went in. Harendra Singh seems to work some magic in the dressing room. If not him, someone does and it works.
They came out bathed in an invincible aura of belief. India did not back down; India did not falter and India chased down everything with the desperation of a team that wanted nothing less than victory.
The commitment of the Indian players to thwart English attacks was exemplified by midfielder Nikki Pradhan, who took a blow to her face in a defending attempt. She was left with a bloodied mouth.
“It’s a little cut, she’s a strong girl, she’ll be okay,” said Gurjit Kaur of her teammate’s injury.
A big change after the half was the manner in which the entire team chased down the ball. It meant that the English players did not have enough time on the ball which in turn led to turnovers and counterattacks. Rani Rampal showed the way but the rest of the team was right up there with her.
Navneet Kaur’s equaliser in the 42nd minute came as a direct result of this sustained push. She found herself in space, with only the goalkeeper to beat and she drilled a powerful shot straight between the legs of Madeliene Hinch, the England goalkeeper.
The goal only seemed to lift their spirits even higher. England were still trying to figure how to tackle this Indian team when they conceded a penalty stroke in the final quarter. Gurjit, who has been making a name for herself as a penalty corner specialists, stepped up and converted easily.
There were no more goals in the game as India held on for a famous win. One that will resonate around the world and give them a whole lot of confidence. It will also tell that intensity is the key against better opponents. If you take your foot off the pedal, you will pay the price.
“This is the first time we have beaten England, they are the Olympic champions so we are very happy,” India captain Rani Rampal said after the match.
“It’s always a special moment and achievement when you beat the Olympic champions. We’ve had very little chance to compete against them, and today was our day. We had to grab the chances and work hard,” she added.
India, aiming to do better than the fifth-place finish at the last two CWG editions, are now second on the points table behind England and look set to qualify for the semifinals.
“It is awesome, we worked hard the whole game. We defended hard in the first half and held them. We came out more aggressive in the second half and put on the pressure,” said Rani.
The 22-year-old Navneet said scoring against the Olympic champions is easily among the biggest moments of her career.
“It’s my first biggest memorable moment, I have more confidence now for the next games. We’re going to win all the matches from now on,” she asserted.
“We lost to Wales so this match was important for us to win, to get to the semifinals,” she added.