A late fightback from India was not enough to avoid yet another loss against the Australians as the hosts went down 3-4 in the FIH Pro Hockey league encounter in Bhubaneshwar on Friday.

The Australians, who have not lost to India since 2016, were leading 4-1 at the end of the third quarter and it looked like the Indians were staring at a big defeat when the hosts kick started a fightback with a goal within 30 seconds after the restart.

Rupinder Pal Singh, who scored India’s third goal in the 52nd minute, had a chance to restore parity in the final minute but his drag flick went wide and also ended India’s hopes.

Dylan Wotherspoon (6th minute), Tom Wickham (18th), Lachlan Sharp (42nd) and Jacob Anderson (42nd) scored for the defending champions while Raj Kumar Pal scored a brace (36th, 47th) for the hosts.

The start of the match was rather sedate compared to the past outings of the Indian team and no clear chances were created in the first five minutes. But the Australians were clearly lurking around the Indian striking circle and when Rupinder Pal Singh made the mistake with an aerial ball, they were ready to pounce.

Aran Zelewski made a good run down the middle and pushed the ball inside the striking circle and Dylan Wotherspoon made no mistake in directing it inside the goal. India’s best chance of the first quarter came off a long ball inside the striking circle in the 13th minute but Lalit Upadhyay could not control the ball as it hit his foot.

The Australians soon created a scoring chance at the other end as Jacob Anderson released Wotherspoon inside the circle but his shot went wide in the 15th minute. But it took Australia just three minutes in the second quarter to increase their lead. The Indians were caught napping on the counter from the left. Eddie Ockenden gave a perfect pass to Wickham inside the circle and he doubled the lead for the visitors with a clinical finish.

The hosts were clearly struggling to keep pace with the Australians when defending and though the visitors could not really create many chances, they did make the few that came their way count.

India showed much better intent from the start of the second half and were duly rewarded with a penalty corner in the 35th minute. While Rupinder Pal Singh failed to make anything of it, Upadhyay made a fine turn inside the opposition circle to earn another short corner.

Raj Kumar Pal was in the right place to intercept the rebound and scored with a reverse hit to bring India back in the game.

But that feeling of a fight back stayed for just five minutes as the Australians sliced open the Indian defence from the right and Sharp made no mistake in guiding the ball in the goal. A minute later, Corey Weyer makes a darting run from the left and Anderson deflects the ball between the goalkeeper’s leg to extend the team’s lead.

India had the best period of play at the start of the first quarter as Pal struck for the second time within 30 seconds of the start through a stinging hit from the top of the circle to reduce Australia’s margin. Akashdeep Singh had a chance to find the back of the net from a similar position but his shot is pretty wide.

India continued to launch attacks on the Australian goal from both flanks and the pressure well and truly transferred on the Australians when Rupinder converted his team’s fourth penalty corner.

Goalkeeper Sreejesh kept India in the game with a brilliant save to thwart Anderson two minutes after Rupinder’s goal. The Indians then continued to look for an equaliser but even a last minute penalty corner could not do the trick for Manpreet Singh’s team.