New goal-scoring hero Karthi shines in 7-4 win for India vs New Zealand

Karthi celebrates after scoring against New Zealand. Hockey India

In the end, India scored seven goals against New Zealand while conceding four. Harmanpreet Singh, as usual, scored twice via penalty corners. Another penalty corner was converted by Jugraj Singh. Sukhjeet Singh and Raj Kumar Pal impressed with a goal each.

But from an Indian perspective, arguably the best part of the win was Selvam Karthi. The Indian forward from Tamil Nadu showed why he's highly rated with the two terrific finishes.

First, let's talk about his goals

India were trailing 1-3 at the end of the opening quarter. Sloppy defending was the theme for the first 15 minutes. They needed to find a goal quickly to shift the momentum. Step up Karthi, new to the squad, in combination with Manpreet Singh, the veteran who more-or-less has driven this team forward for the last decade.

Manpreet won the ball in the midfield, made a darting run to the centre and slipped it to Karthi. He overran the ball a bit, but retained control, with his back to goal. With New Zealand players falling back, two of them in front of goal, Karthi turned and smashed it past the goalkeeper to make it 2-3.

"I was a bit confused whether to make a pass or take a shot. But I went with my instinct. I'm very happy," Karthi told ESPN after the match.

If his first goal was a testament to his poacher's instincts, the second goal was all about awareness and applying pressure.

This time, India were leading 5-3 in the third quarter after completing a remarkable turnaround. As a New Zealand defender collected the ball in his own circle and tried to scoop it over Karthi to initiate an attacking move, the Indian forward anticipated it. He took a few steps forward, blocked it with his stick high over his head, got the ball under control and sat the goalkeeper down and calmly slotted it past him.

"It was because of the pressure. I got the goal because I applied the pressure with my movement," said Karthi.

This was no defensive mistake - Karthi didn't get lucky, he made it happen. It was completely his goal.

A talent from Tamil Nadu

After a gap of almost 13-14 years, Tamil Nadu appears to finally be producing solid talents in hockey again. Karthi, along with state mate Mareeswaran Sakthivel made it to the Indian squad for the Asia Cup earlier this year. Although that was more of a B-team, with the board looking to test their bench strength, Karthi seized the opportunity. He scored thrice -- his first goal coming against Pakistan -- as India won bronze.

21 years old, Karthi hails from a small town called Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu, around 350 kms from Chennai. He started playing hockey when he was just seven and started taking it seriously after joining a sports hostel.

His father used to work as a watchman at a government college for a modest salary, supporting three children. Karthi is the middle child, with an elder sister and a younger brother who's now studying in college.

"My parents gave me full freedom to go and pursue hockey as my career. That's why I'm here," he said.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, when the situation became really tough, he had worked in a bakery to support his family. But he had never given up on his dream.

Making sacrifices is not uncommon for professional athletes, especially in their formative years, and so it was for Karthi. His performance against New Zealand on Friday would've given him a sense that it was all worth it.