Bengaluru: India backed up their 4-2 win on Thursday with another clinical performance that helped them clinch the three-Test series on Saturday in Bengaluru.
Rupinder Pal Singh (18’), SV Sunil (27’) and Mandeep Singh (56’) were on target for the hosts as they completed a 3-1 win over the Kiwis under dark skies at the Sports Authority of India campus in the city.
Hardly did the men in blue lose grip on the game over the four quarters. The opposition found their passing unsettlingly quick, their attack unstoppable and, as their lone goal-scorer Stephen Jenness conceded after the game, New Zealand was out of gas. India, ranked fifth in the world, was superior to the lower-ranked (10) team physically and strategically.
The only phase of the match that New Zealand seemed to be in control was at the start of the first quarter. They’d made a couple of circle entries but both failed to create a threat – the Indian defence, which was brilliant in the recently concluded Champions Trophy – hardly allowed them any room.
After a half-chance in the eighth minute – Akashdeep Singh struck from the edge of the circle that went wide – India earned two quick penalty corners. But both went wide.
But the Indians were all over the Kiwis, relentlessly making circle entries towards the end of the first quarter.
Barrage of penalty corners
The second quarter began with five quick penalty corners that resulted in the first goal of the match. A scintillating run from Simranjeet Singh from the right flank that threatened to breach Kiwi defence earned the men in blue the PC. The first two of the five penalty corners, the Kiwi defenders blocked.
From the third one – injected by Manpreet Singh – Rupinder had enough time to aim and strike to the New Zealand goal-keeper Richard Joyce’s right. India earned two more penalty corners immediately after, which were kept out by Joyce.
The midfield, which was vulnerable in the Champions Trophy, looked superb on Saturday, with Sardar making swift interceptions and precise passes to the attackers. The Indians, as admitted by coach Harendra Singh after the match, were playing a more attacking game.
For most of the second and third quarters, goalkeeper Sreejesh was alone in the Indian circle, yelling instructions to his teammates. But this all-out attack by the men in blue resulted in New Zealand’s lone goal. In the 24th minute, a quick interception and an air-pass from the New Zealand circle was collected by Stephen Jenness, who had only Sreejesh to beat. He equalised for the Kiwis against the run of play.
But India didn’t take long to regain the lead as Simranjeet and Sunil played a brilliant one-two before the latter struck it from the left flank to the top corner of the net.
The third and fourth quarters followed a similar storyline as the first half-half, with New Zealand struggling to keep the Indians at bay. India came close to scoring another goal in the 47th minute when Varun Kumar sprinted from the half-line, dove – unable to control his run – and tried to beat the New Zealand goalie but the latter rushed forward to block the ball.
With the match slipping away, in the last five minutes, the Kiwis took off the goalie to allow an extra attacker. But the move backfired immediately as Mandeep capitalised on the unguarded net and scored India’s final goal.
The last match – a dead rubber now – will be played at the same venue on Sunday.