Chennai Cheetahs dished out a better brand of hockey but Pune Strykers still maintained their undefeated run as their match ended in a pulsating 3-3 draw in the World Series Hockey in Chennai on Friday.
In the day's other match, hosts Bhopal Badshahs outmaneouvred Delhi Wizards 2-1 to take the top position in the league. Before this match, Pune Strykers and Mumbai Marine occupied the top-two positions respectively, but the Badshahs just flew over them in the points tally with a fine victory in the 20th match of the tournament.
After an early goal by Adam Sinclair (1st minute), Pakistani drag flicker Imran Warsi (30th, 44th) struck twice converting two penalty-corners, including one in the third quarter, to raise hopes for the Cheetahs.
However, Pune was equally up for the task and scored through Roshan Minz (5th) and Bikash Topo (34th) and substitute Simrandeep Randhawa in the fourth quarter to help the team share honours.
This is the third drawn match for the Pune Strykers, who have maintained a clean slate in five matches, with two wins against Delhi Wizards and Mumbai Marines.
As for Chennai Cheetahs they have won two and lost two; with this draw they take their tally to seven points, while Pune Strykers have nine.
The hosts went into the lead in the first minute when former international Adam Sinclair made good use of a defensive lapse by Ken Pereira and grabbed the ball almost at the mouth of the goal to sound the board.
Cheetahs were in control of the game but their goalkeeper, Jasbir Singh, a junior India player, wilted under pressure from the visitors and ended up conceeding two goals to Warsi.
In the second quarter, Cheetahs scored in the 12th minute of their second penalty-corner conversion through Warsi but in the fag end of the quarter Bikas Topno came up with a goal when Jasbir was out of his charge.
Sameer Dad scintillates
In the later match, in Bhopal, former India ace Sameer Dad did the star turn. He set up youngsters for goals on umpteen occasions in 70 minutes of play, and was the main catalyst of his team's thrilling win over a hugely talented but increasingly less opportunistic Delhi Wizards.
The match started on a breathtaking pace. Badshahs went up when Dad fetched a penalty-corner against the run of play and let others to do the rest.
Young Laxman Baskaran made his Olympian father and coach of his team, Vasudevan Baskaran, proud with his deadly grounder in the 14th minute that put the team ahead. Wizards goalkeeper Kamaldeep Singh spotted the flight of the blinder, but the sheer power of it was too much to stop the ball from its intended destination.
Delhi replied in style in the next quarter. Bikramjeet Singh, who shot wide his attempt off the first penalty-corner, flicked the ball so high that it crashed into the inside roof top (33rd minute) when he got another chance to showcase his ware.
Dad missed some easy chances, but made amends in the 49th minute when he selflessly relayed the ball to mate AB Cheeyanna, who had to merely tap into the goal, with the goalkeeper sprawled in front as the crowd came to its feet.
In the third quarter, when the team played with a player less on account of yellow card suspension, Pakistani star Shakeel Abassi put Manoj Antil with gem of a feed, but the youngster fumbled in the D. The Wizards squandered many such lovely chances. Abbasi stole the ball when Badshahs failed to stop cleanly during their third penalty-corner drill only to see Rajpal Singh miscuing his reverse shot.
Delhi missed several sitters of this nature to gift the match to Badshahs. Dad was deservingly, declared the man-of-the-match.
Cheetahs' plays Karnataka Lions on Saturday in their sixth tie, while Strykers take on Chandigarh Comets on Sunday.