Hockey World Cup: Akashdeep the lone spark as Harmanpreet fluffs his line

Akashdeep scored a brace for India against Wales. WorldSportPics/Frank Uijlenbroek

With a minute to play, Lalit Upadhyay won a penalty corner for his team - India's seventh of the match. Wales took their goalkeeper off in the final quarter as they were chasing an equaliser at 2-3. Harmanpreet Singh, before joining the Indian teammates on top of the circle, went towards Graham Reid for a very brief chat. He took charge of the penalty corner and found the board inside the goal with a low hit to make it 4-2.


It was Harmanpreet's first penalty corner conversion in three matches, and India's first direct conversion in 26 attempts. Shamsher Singh's goal earlier was recorded as a penalty corner goal but it came from a rebound, after Harmanpreet had his strike blocked.

It ought to have been a match where Harmanpreet finally found form and goals - something India craved since the opening match. One cannot be sure if he found form, but a goal he did... It's just that it took almost 60 minutes and no goalkeeper guarding the post. His celebrations, or rather the lack of it, after the goal said it all. A muted jog back to his position in defence, to play out the remaining time left.

Out of five chances, Harmanpreet scored once. He fluffed his lines twice - when India needed his goals.

The struggle was real against Wales. From needing an eight-goal margin to top the group and qualify for quarterfinals, India were left looking for a winning goal after Wales made it 2-2. While India had their problems with scoring from penalty corners, Wales scored two goals from back-to-back penalty corners. They earned three PCs, scoring twice thanks to Gareth Furlong and Jacob Draper.

In retrospect, it was a harsh scoreline for Wales - who defended with aplomb. For three quarters, they frustrated India with their organization at the back.

"They defended really well. They threw everything at it. We still created a lot of opportunities that we should've put away. I think we kept them in the game and that gave them oxygen. That's what happens when you have such a good crowd. That helps them as well, you know? Gives them a bit of adrenaline, they get bit of belief," said Reid, praising the Welsh players for the shift they put in.

Akashdeep, the bright spark for India

In the end, India scored three field goals and credit should go to Akashdeep Singh and how well he combined with Mandeep Singh. Akashdeep was in form going into the World Cup, thanks to his exploits in the Test series against Australia.

One of the main reasons why Reid picked him for the Australian series and the World Cup after dropping him for Pro League games was Akashdeep's big match experience. He's a player with over 200 matches and has scored over 80 goals. On a day when India needed their attackers to be at their best, Akashdeep was definitely at his best. He displayed his intent right from the first minute, forcing a save with his first shot.

India's second goal in the match was a dream field goal for any attacker - the one-two with Mandeep, with Akashdeep starting the attacking move from the halfway line and then picking the pass from Mandeep inside the circle - before coming up with a finish that was a thing of beauty.

He added another in the fourth quarter. A similar one-two, this time with Sukhjeet Singh on the right. He finished with a smashing tomahawk - that Reynolds-Cotterill, who'd been great all night, had no chance of stopping.

With India taking on New Zealand for a place in the quarterfinals, a firing Akashdeep is certainly one of the few positives that Reid and co. can take into the match.