India's medal hopes in the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament went up in smoke as New Zealand rode on a penalty-corner hat-trick by Andrew Hayward to humiliate the title holders 7-3 in their last round-robin league match in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Thursday.
India squandered the lead thrice before Hayward produced a hat-trick of drag-flicked goals to put the Black Sticks in command and spoil India's chance of claiming a medal in the event, which they won outright in 2009 and were joint-champions with South Korea last year.
Following the defeat, India slipped to fifth place in the seven-team round-robin league, which is headed by World champions Australia, who defeated Great Britain 2-1 earlier in the day.
Five-time Azlan Shah Cup winners, Australia now have 13 points from five games and are assured of a place in Sunday's summit clash with one league match still to go against New Zealand.
However, Australia's opponent in the final will only be know on Saturday, as Great Britain, Pakistan and New Zealand all have a chance of making it to the title clash.
But with nine points each in their kitty, Great Britian and Pakistan are slightly better placed than the Black Sticks.
For New Zealand to qualify for the final, they will first have to beat Australia on Saturday and hope other two contenders - Great Britain and Pakistan - lose their last league matches.
India's opponent in Sunday's classification play-offs will also be decided on Saturday.
Hayward's hat-trick of penalty-corner goals came in the space of 14 minutes midway through the second session when the Indian defence again caved in under pressure.
To add to it, two speedy field goals by Blair Hilton and a strike each from Nicholas Wilson and Shay Neal gave New Zealand their biggest win ever against India.
For India, Gurwinder Singh Chandi scored two field goals after S V Sunil opened the scoring.
India drew first blood in the 20th minute through an outstanding goal by Sunil, who latched on to a long diagonal ball from Ravipal Singh on top of the circle and slotted home past the onrushing goalkeeper.
New Zealand equalised four minutes later when Wilson capitalised on Arun Panchia's pass into the scoring zone.
India were in front again in the 26th minute when Chandi tapped in Roshan Minz's cross from the right corner.
But New Zealand equalised six minutes later after Steven Edwards found out an unmarked Hilton inside the circle and he had all the time to turn around and shoot past onrushing Indian custodian Bharat Chetri.
India went ahead for the third time in the match when Chandi added another six minutes into the second half. He dribbled into the scoring zone from the right flank and flicked past the goalkeeper when the defenders were expecting him to pass the ball to other strikers inside the circle.
But drag-flicker Hayward then produced a three-goal burst that startled the Indian defence, converting penalty-corners in the 44th, 53rd and 57th minutes to give the Black Sticks a 5-3 lead.
A terrible defensive lapse by Dhananjay Mahadik in the 58th minute saw him lose a back-pass inside the scoring zone to Neal, who duly slotted the ball into the boards.
Hilton then rounded off the scoring for New Zealand with a flash strike in the 63rd minute.