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India eke out thrilling draw, pocket hockey series

Source: PTI
Last updated on: January 22, 2012 23:18 IST

India made a stunning comeback in the second half to hold South Africa 3-3 in the fifth and final hockey Test in New Delhi and clinch the five-match series 3-1.

Trailing 0-3 at the breather, the Indians dished out a spirited fightback in the second half to end the series on an impressive note ahead of next month's Olympic qualifiers here.

The hosts had already pocketed the series on Friday after securing a hard-fought 4-3 win in the fourth Test. India had defeated South Africa 4-0 and 2-1 in the first two matches before the visitors registered their lone victory (2-3) in the third game.

Contrary to the result, it were the visitors who were the better side on display in the opening half, and scored three field goals in a span of nine minutes through Ricky West (26th minute), Ian Haley (31st) and Miguel Da Graca (34th).

India, however, regrouped and pumped in goals through Yuvraj Walmiki (43rd), V R Ragunath (49th) and young S K Uthappa (66th) to draw parity.

The Indians started positively and showed some sparks in the opening few minutes before fading out.

It took South Africa 26 minutes to capitalise on India's feeble defensive line when West tapped home after he was set up by Julian Hykes' brilliant stickwork from the right flank.

The tourists doubled their lead five minutes later through Haley, who slapped home after pouncing on a loose ball inside the circle.

Just a minute before the break another defensive lapse cost India dearly when Da Graca scored from Lloyd Norris-Jones' cross.

India, however, looked a different side in the second half and put the South African defence under constant pressure by searching for goals.

Their efforts bore fruit when Walimik scored from a close range after receiving a pass from Sardar Singh.

Raghunath then converted a penalty corner in the 43rd minute out of the five India earned to reduce the margin.

Uthappa scored the all-important equaliser just four minutes from the hooter after setting the goal with a great one-two with Sarvanjit Singh, who was given the captain's arm-band.

India chief coach Micheal Nobbs lauded his wards for the series win but said it will take some more time for his side to become a "great team from good team".

"It was a terrific result considering we were trailing 0-3 at the half team. For me it is a positive result. This is a good team but we need some time to become a great team," he said.

"I was very angry at the half time because it seemed we were complacent in the first half. But we put a lot of pressure on South Africa's defence (in the second half)."

With the qualifiers round the corner, Nobbs also issued a veiled threat to unfit and non-performing players and hinted that veteran Rajpal Singh, in all probability, will face the axe from the team for the February 18-26 event.

"We tried a few players today who are coming back from injuries. They were rusty but still they have got little bit more time," he said referring to Danish Mujtaba and Rupinder Pal Singh.

Asked about Rajpal, he said, "He is physically not fit and needs lot of hard work. He has been out of the team for 12 weeks and will take at least 2 months to get back to top shape."

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