KOLLAM: A cursory glance at the women’s national team will suffice to realise that three-fourth of the squad is drawn from hockey’s traditional nurseries of Punjab and Haryana. The line-up of the title clash in the 35th National Games offered no aberration, as both the northern states duly reserved their spot in the final.
The routes, though, were diverse. Punjab eased past Odisha 3-0 while Haryana had to endure the pangs of sudden death. For Punjab, ironically though, it was their import from Manipur, Anuradha Phockhom, who scored the first in the 17th minute. The 25-year-old was part of the Glasgow Games team, but her inconsistency has robbed her of a permanent place in the squad.
Incidentally, she is not the sole entity from Manipur in the Punjab team. So are skipper Rosalind Lalchhanhimi Ralte and Lalremruati Khangte. All are working in various public sector units in Punjab and hence, are in the team. Playing for Punjab, they judge, gives them a a better opportunity to warrant the national selectors’ notice.
To enhance the lead, they had to wait till the second-half, when Anu Bala opportunistically guided the ball home. Odisha showed purpose, but didn’t have the imagination to chart the comeback route. Manmeet Kaur put the match beyond their reach with another clinical finish in the 59th minute.
Haryana, meanwhile, had to wait until sudden death. After a slugfest of sorts, they scored in the 30th minute through Jyoti Gupta, and it seemed enough until Jharkhand’s Kanti Pradhan equalised in the 62nd minute. Both sides spilled a spate of opportunities in the last five minutes, and the game dragged to the inevitable shootout, which was nervous for both sides.
What followed was a spill fest. Jyoti converted the very first chance, but her teammates fumbled. Likewise, only Kanti Pradhan ticked for Jharkhand. Both goalkeepers, Sukhmani Virk of Haryana and Punam Barla of Jharkhand, had reasons to be proud. In sudden death, though, nerves got the better of Jharkhand, as Punam Tete’s effort was denied and Jyoti converted. The dribble-and-hit sequence has added more life and competence into shootouts.
But Haryana’s men were less plucky, as they stuttered in sudden death to Odisha, after the match was pegged 3-3 in regulation time.. Earlier, Services had no qualms whatsoever in eviscerating Jharkhand 5-1.