BHUBANESWAR:India’s reputation as a powerhouse of hockey suffered a jolt as they were held to a 1-1 draw by lower-ranked Japan in the first of a four-match test series here at the Kalinga Stadium Hockey Complex on Sunday.
Trailing 1-0 till the end of third quarter, hosts India escaped what would have been a humiliating defeat thanks to VR Raghunath, who rescued them by converting a penalty corner in the 44th minute. Earlier, Daichi Kurogawa helped Japan take the lead with a field goal in the 19th minute.
The home team got off to an inspiring start, creating a couple of scoring opportunities. They even won a penalty corner early in the fifth minute, which, however, was wasted by Rupinder Pal Singh. But after dominating proceedings for the first ten minute, India suddenly appeared to be a spent force.
Japan, on the other hand, took some time to judge the opposition’s game plan, but after getting their first penalty corner in the 11th minute, they seemed a transformed lot. Of course, they missed an opportunity to take the lead as Hirotaka Zendana spoiled the penalty corner by hitting over. But the warning they served, put India on the back foot till the end of the second quarter.
Despite being overwhelming favourites, Indians looked rusty. They were found making miss passing and committing mistakes in trapping. They would have been 2-0 down had their dependable goalkeeper P Sreejesh not made a diving save in the 28th minute.
The Japan forward caught the Indian defence on the wrong foot by sheer speed. Their defence also proved to be tough nut to crack and did not allow much room for Indian forwards to have a real look at the post.
Indian defender Kothajit Singh marked his 100th international match. India missed a chance to equalise in the 42nd minute as Dharamvir Singh failed to connect a pass from Kothajit. However, the second penalty corner proved lucky for India as Raghunath equalised with a perfect drag-flick to the roof of the net.
The hosts had a chance to win the match by winning penalty corner in towards fag end. But it was Rupinder again, who misssed the mark. The second Test will take place on Tuesday.