Promising youngster Yuvraj Walmiki struck twice as India [ Images ] registered a thrilling 4-3 victory over South Africa [ Images ] in the fourth hockey Test on Friday as they clinched the five-match series 3-1.
India scored four second half goals through Walmiki (44th minute, 53rd), V R Raghunath (50th) and S K Uthappa (56th) after Justin Reid Ross (14th) gave South Africa the lead in the first half at the floodlit Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
The tourists, however, did not give up till the last minute and managed to reduce the margin through Ian Haley (54th) and Lloyd Madsen (64th).
With this win, India has taken an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match series. India had earlier defeated South Africa 4-0 and 2-1 in the first two Tests before the visitors scored a 1-3 victory in the third tie.
The final Test of the series will be played on Sunday.
Contrary to the result, the South Africans were by far the better side on display in the first half as the Indians found it difficult to breach their strong defence.
The Proteas also played fast paced one-touch hockey in the opening period and created more spaces during their attacks. And, as expected the visitors drew first blood when Reid Ross sounded the boards with a reverse shot after receiving a cross from the right.
Trailing 0-1, the Indians came out with more purpose in the second period and drew parity when an opportunistic Yuvraj tapped home after he was set up by Sarvanjit Singh's solo run from the right flank.
Pumped by the goal, India went on an offensive which resulted in their first penalty corner from which Raghunath scored with a low flick in the 50th minute to take the scoreline to 2-1 in favour of the hosts.
Three minutes later, Yuvraj doubled his tally scoring his second goal of the match after South African goalkeeper Erasmus Pieterse denied Raghunath from India's second short corner.
But South Africa reduced the margin in the next minute when Haley scored from a counter-attack, guiding Lloyd Norris-Jones' cross from the left past India's keeper.
To the delight of the sparse crowd present in the stadium, India restored their lead soon when young Uthappa scored from a goal-mouth melee to take a 4-2 lead.
But the South Africans seemed in no mood to give up as Madsen scored with a variation from the visitors' fourth penalty corner just six minutes from the hooter.
The victory margin could have been bigger for India but Uthappa's late strike was disallowed by the on-field umpire.
India coach Michael Nobbs, who gave the captain's armband to senior striker Shivendra Singh, was happy with the result but rued his wards' innumerable missed chances.
"Consistency is still not there because we are trying around a few things in the series. But once we reduce the squad to 22 players we will work a few specific grey areas. We penetrated the opponent's circle 37-38 times today, but our finishing wasn't that good," Nobbs said.
"Our trapping also wasn't fantastic but it was ok. We were also guilty of not anticipating tackles outside the circle and gave South Africa opportunities to come into our circle," he added.
He also backed Walmiki, who looked scrappy and out-of-sorts throughout the match but scored two goals.
"If he (Yuvraj) hits two goals being rusty, I am happy. It was just his second match after recovering from the (hip) injury. He is a consistent goal-scorer whenever he plays," Nobbs said.
Agreeing that the team has still lot of work to do ahead of February 18-26 Olympic [ Images ] qualifiers to be played in New Delhi [ Images ], Nobbs said the ongoing series against South Africa is just "stepping stone to where the team wants to get to."
He also said that he will continue to experiment with the team in the last match of the series.
"On Sunday also we will continue to try a few things. Danish (Mujtaba) and Rupinder (Pal Singh) will play the next match."
South Africa coach Gregg Clark, meanwhile, was disappointed with the result of the match but was happy with the performance of his wards which has improved steadily.
"We played some really good hockey (in the series), but we shouldn't have been conceding 4 goals in the second half. It was disappointing. We wasted a few chances also," Clark said.
"Our penalty conversion rate throughout the series has been very poor. It is something we need to get back to the drawing board and work hard."
Clark was full of praise for India's spirited fight-back in the second half.
"They (India) created a lot of pressure and played with incredible speed in the second half."