World No 1 Australia rallied from an early goal conceded to beat Asian champions India 3-2 in the opening match of the men’s Four Nations Invitational Tournament in Melbourne on Wednesday.

In an entertaining encounter, goals to Jeremy Haywood in the 24th and 36th minutes and Trent Mitton in the 43rd negated the brilliance of Rupinder Pal Singh(21’, 53’) and took the Kangaroos from 0-1 to a morale-boosting win over the team which last month was crowned winners of the Asian Champions Trophy.

It was a familiar struggle in the second half for India, whose downfall came when they were denied the ball and as the penalty corner opportunities faded, so too did the defensive frailties of a team missing talismanic captain and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and senior strikers SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh. Rupinder was the stand-out player, with his second goal in the dying stages of the match adding to a supreme performance from the drag-flick expert.

The first quarter was passive, with both teams adopting a relatively cautious approach. India closed in on goal on a few occasions but were denied by the Kangaroos’ defenders, and a few moments of miscommunication - notably between Sardar Singh and Birendra Lakra - also added to the lack of goal-scoring opportunities. Players on both sides appeared at ease playing from wide of the goal and the few moments of brilliant stickwork were negated by clinical defence.

In one exciting passage of play, Rupinder fed the ball to his skipper VR Raghunath during the last two minutes of the first quarter, which saw youngster Affan Yousuf get close to the goal but the opportunity went begging.

India broke forward again in the 19th minute thanks to some superb movement from Talwinder Singh that drew a penalty corner, only for some brilliant work from Tristan Clemons while falling to his left to save a goal. The Australian goalkeeper then deflected two other hard-hit attempts at goal in the ensuing few seconds, but in the 21st minute Rupinder put India ahead 1-0 with lovely artistry.

India’s jubilation was short-lived, however, as a fierce drag-flick from Haywood leveled the scores just moments later with five minutes left on the clock.

From 1-1 at the half-time mark, Australia went up 2-1 with Haywood scoring his second PC in the 36th minute. On this occasion it was a relatively easy set-up, and the absence of Sreejesh was felt as Akash Chikte was left with no answer to Haywood.

The Kangaroos continued to counter-attack and India’s skills in midfield started to slack during this period, allowing the home team’s forwards to apply pressure. In the 43rd minute, Mitton slammed in another PC goal and that left India with too much to do in the final quarter. Chikte produced a tremendous save with a little over eight minutes remaining, which along with Rupinder’s strike in the 53rd minute ending up being the last real moments of brilliance for India.

 

The Kangaroos are the No 1 ranked hockey team in the world and this week beat New Zealand to lift Trans-Tasman Trophy. India are ranked sixth. The last time India met Australia on the hockey field was during the Champions Trophy in London in June, when the Kangaroos won 3-1.
 
New Zealand and Malaysia are the other teams in the Four-Nation Tournament. India play Malaysia on November 24 at 12:30pm IST and New Zealand on November 26 at 11:30am IST. The competition will be followed by a Test series between India and Australia.