India’s dream start to the Champions Trophy hockey tournament in Breda, Netherlands, was brought to a grinding halt on Wednesday when they went down 2-3 to Australia in their third league encounter.
The Indians have struggled to tackle the Australian challenge in recent years, winning just two of their 11 encounters against the world number one side and were once again found wanting when the Kookaburras pressed forward in numbers.
To their credit, the Indians did not drop their guard and tried to fight back till the last minute, but the Commonwealth Games champions were too clinical once they took the lead.
Lachlan Sharp (6th minute), Tom Craig (15th), and Trent Mitton (33rd) found the net for Australia while Varun Kumar (10th) and Harmanpreet Singh (58th) scored the goals for India.
India once again were slow to start and that allowed the Australians to build early pressure. The Indians were happy to sit back and their opponents capitalised on a small mistake in clearing the ball. Eddie Ockenden had an easy entry into the striking circle and Lachlan Sharp had the easiest job of tapping the ball in on the goalmouth in the sixth minute.
The goal, however, woke up the Indians as they began pushing ahead in numbers and earned two quick penalty corners. On both occasions, Birendra Lakra failed to stop the push cleanly but Lalit Upadhyay was there to control the ball and release it to SV Sunil, who crossed it across the goal from the right and Vivek Prasad made no mistake in firing it home.
It was the best period of the first quarter for India as they came close to scoring a couple of times. Vivek Prasad’s shot from just outside the circle found no deflection and the Australian goalkeeper was alert to stop Mandeep Singh’s cracking shot.
But just when it looked like the two teams would share the spoils in the first quarter, Australia’s Tom Craig made the most of the goal mouth melee following two sharp saves by PR Sreejesh in the 15th minute.
India were clearly the more adventurous team in the opening half, making more circle penetrations and earning five penalty corners. But for one attempt from Harmanpreet Singh they hardly forced the Australian goalkeeper Tyler Lovell into making a save.
At the other end, Sreejesh ensured that India stayed in the hunt as they came up with two brilliant saves, as the Australians failed to convert any of their four penalty corners.
India’s numerical disadvantage, with Sunil and Manpreet Singh sitting out after getting green and yellow cards respectively, hurt them at the start of the second half as Australia pushed ahead in numbers and Trent Mitton gave the finishing touch to a fine run from Craig in the 33rd minute.
Australia clearly dominated the proceedings thereafter in the third quarter as they pressed harder but the Indian defence ensured that there were no further goals.
Vivek Prasad came close to scoring the second goal for India, eighth minutes from the final hooter, when Dilpreet Singh played him inside the striking circle. However, the Australian defence managed to deflect the ball out.
With just under three minutes left, Harmanpreet finally managed to convert a penalty corner with a low sweep to the left of the goalkeeper. But India failed to find the equaliser despite earning another penalty corner, allowing Australia to go to the top of league standings with seven points. India slipped to third with six points from three matches.