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Rajinder Column
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We went down to a better team (5/30/2003)
--Rajinder Singh
Perth: The oldest player in the Australian line-up, Tristram Woodhouse, scored a goal in either half to take his country to the final of the Perth leg of the Hockey Australia Challenge Cup. With two wins in as many matches, Australia have six points while we have three and the other contender Pakistan are pointless. Pakistan has lost to Australia A on Thursday after being outplayed by the Aussie’s senior team on Wednesday. This makes our match against Pakistan on Saturday all the more interesting. We need a draw to reach the final while Pakistan need victory by good margin.

The 29-year old Woodhouse, who made his international debut only last month, should thank his stars for his first goal. We definitely felt the ball had gone over the backline before being centred to him. But umpire on the field is the best judge and we accepted his decision.

The second goal that came in the 44th minute was a brilliant effort from the livewire centre-half Brent Livermore. It was his neat pass that Woodhouse tapped in to consolidate the lead. At that stage Dhanraj Pillay limped off with an injury and came back only the fag end of the match.

Our forwards missed many chances today. Australian defenders Aaron Hopkins and Bevan Geore need to be appreciated for their neat anticipation and rough tackles. Mukesh Kumar, Gagan Ajit, and Dhanraj Pillay were among our forwards who missed out a few chances. Hickman under bar is improving day by day and he is going to be the match winner for Australia in the coming days.

Today, we lost to a better team. Our defence was inconsistent while we could not convert any of the four penalty corners we got. Dilip Tirkey, Jugraj and Baljit Singh Dhillon attempted in vain to fructify these penalty corners. The closest we came today was when Dilip Tirkey unleashed a withering grounder, but Mark Hickman, the rival team’s goalkeeper saved it brilliantly. It was one of those instinctive saves an experienced goalkeeper takes out effortlessly from his vast repertoire.

Midfielders Vikram Pillay and Sandeep Michael were dropped today and the remaining 18 players were given equal chance to play, save Kamal Deep Singh. Our best move in the first session came after a brilliant pass from midfield found Gagan Ajit unmarked near the top of the circle, but his shot went agonisingly wide off the target.

Late in the match, we got another good chance to make our presence in the score sheet. A combined move from Pillay, back from injury, and Saini provided an open chance to Dhillon, but he messed it up in haste. Over all, our main problem remained our inability to penetrate the Australian circle enough, with Bevan George and Aaron Hopkins proving almost insurmountable obstacle in defence.

After seeing Pakistan’s poor game against Australia on Wednesday, I had a gut feeling they wouldn’t do well against the Australian A either. We saw the Pakistan and Australia A match till halftime and by that time the latter has built up of a respectable two-goal lead. Ultimately, Pakistan lost 3-5.

Andrew Smith, Adam Commens and Steven Boyce scored a goal apiece and Lucas Judge scored a brace for Australia A while Ghazanfar (two goals) and Shakeel Abbasi scored for Pakistan

Pakistan’s present poor form not necessarily mean things will be easy for us when we face on Saturday. India-Pakistan contest is a different ball game. Still, I feel we now have upper hand. I am confident of reaching the final.

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