Breathless 60 minutes of India-England produce an entertaining 0-0 draw 

The match ended the way it began: a shot, a save and the attacker holding his head in disbelief, puzzled at how his goal-bound attempt was kept out. But Nicholas Bandurak wasn’t the only one left wondering. After the end of a breathless 60 minutes, players on both sides of the pitch, the two dugouts and the four overflowing stands were all equally astonished.

The match that had everything – breezy runs towards the opponent’s circle, a dozen penalty corners, a glut of cards, a defender left with a bloody face, an attacker hobbling out clutching his hamstring, a disallowed goal and a goal-line clearance right at the final hooter – ended with nothing.

After serving goal fests in their previous four encounters, the law of averages finally caught up with India and England as they played out a dramatic goalless draw; a match that won’t be forgotten so easily for its tension as well as the ebb and flow.

It was like two heavyweight boxers going toe-to-toe with each other, throwing a flurry of punches right until the final bell rang and falling on their knees in sheer exhaustion. There was no winner and somehow, it feels like the right thing to have happened.

The draw means both India and England are officially through to the next round. However, the fight for the top spot – and a direct quarterfinal berth – will go down to the final matchday on Thursday, when India take on Wales and England, who currently top Pool D, face Spain.

Hardik’s injury scare

India will now be forced to go all-out against World Cup debutant Wales, who lost 5-1 to Spain earlier in the day, to stand a chance to surpass England’s superior goal difference. For India, topping the group will have a dual advantage – not only will it ensure them a spot in the last 8 but the extra rest days that come with it will also give Hardik Singh, the team’s best outfield player in the opening two games, a chance to gain full fitness.

Hardik left the field in the 55th minute after picking up a hamstring injury and did not play any further role in the match. It sparked concerns over the seriousness of the injury although coach Graham Reid played it down, saying the knock didn’t look as bad as initially thought.

For India, a fully-fit Hardik is essential, especially on turnovers when he has wreaked havoc in opposition defences with his ingenious play. Hardik has a knack for winning possession in the middle of the park and spotting space in front of him to glide forward. On Friday, he was a constant thorn in the English defence with his marauding runs. But India’s profligacy in front of the goal meant the opportunities he created went begging.

It felt as if their basic skills like trapping and passing had abandoned the Indian forwards, who lacked composure in the final third. The forwards were fed with scintillating defence-splitting passes, with defender Harmanpreet Singh providing such balls more than once, and presented with simple tap-in opportunities by the midfielders but somehow, the side that’s not had a problem in finding the back of the net in recent months couldn’t find its scoring touch.

Strong Indian defence

India, on the other hand, excelled in a department that’s failed them since the Tokyo Games – defence. Reid, despite being left with mixed feelings about the draw, looked more than content that his team conjured up its second consecutive clean sheet, which wasn’t an easy task against a side that’s brought cricket’s ‘Bazball’ approach to hockey.

You didn’t really have to see the match to know that England were on the ascendency in the first two quarters. Their dominance could also be heard – the sound of the ball being thwacked from one English stick to another, a desperate PR Sreejesh barking instructions to his teammates and the deafening silence that emanated from the stands that have produced earsplitting noise when India are on the offensive.

England goalkeeper Oliver Payne, who pulled off a couple of decent saves, said after the game he was smiling under his helmet, embracing the atmosphere. His teammates, however, were left grimacing by a solid Indian defence.

In the first two quarters, India, in Reid’s words, were ‘off the pace’, unable to keep up with the quick play on transition by the England forwards who won seven penalty corners in the first half itself.

But India’s defence was once again up to the task, especially the team’s first rushers, be it Manpreet Singh whose brave runs stopped Sam Ward’s fierce drag-flicks or Amit Rohidas, who didn’t hesitate to put his body on the line in front of his home crowd to keep England’s shots at bay. The fact that both Indian goalkeepers – Sreejesh in the first quarter and Krishan Pathak in the second – didn’t have to make a single save from penalty corners points at the efficiency of India’s first wave of rushers, who blocked all angles.

The missed penalty corner chances frustrated England as India gradually wrested the initiative and began to impose themselves. After the change of ends, Reid demanded two things from his players – to match England’s pace on transitions and not concede penalty corners.

It looked like they’d done just what the coach said until the team conceded a corner with just 19 seconds remaining. Bandurak, who has a penchant for scoring match-winning goals, stood on top of the ‘D’ and unleashed a fierce flick which beat Pathak to his left. But behind him, Surender Kumar was there on the line to deflect the ball away from the Indian goal and ensure India did not throw the game away at the death like they have so many times in the past.

Other result

Spain 5 Wales 1

Pool D table

Team      P     W     D       L       GD       Pts

England  2     1     1      0        5          4

India        2     1     1      0       2           4

Spain       2     1     0     1        2          3

Wales      2     0     0      2       -9          0

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