Asian Champions Trophy: India raise the bar ahead of crunch week

The Indian hockey team celebrates a goal during their 5-0 win over Malaysia at the Asian Champions Trophy on Sunday. Hockey India

India turned on the style in the second half to beat Malaysia 5-0 and go atop the Asian Champions Trophy standings. The hosts now have one foot in the semifinals and finally produced an all-round 60-minute performance, much to the delight of coach Craig Fulton.

"I liked the clean sheet, I liked some field goals, I liked the mix from PCs," was Fulton's summation of his side's big win, which took them to seven points from their opening three games.

The one big positive to come out of India's performance on Sunday was the sustained pressure and intensity throughout the 60 minutes, unlike the opening two games against China and Japan.

While the hosts weren't perfect in the opening 30 minutes, they were certainly the better side and fully merited their opening goal through local boy Selvam Karthi's hard low shot midway through the second quarter. After half-time, India turned up the intensity and speed of their attacks, scoring four more goals through Hardik Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Jugraj Singh and Gurjant Singh.

Fulton put it down to recovering from a gruelling schedule of travel and games in Spain just before this tournament. "I think it is about recovery," he said, "we'd just been in Europe and today is Day 6, so we're starting to recover back to normal, whereas the first two games were Day 3. We still had some guys with cramps, but we're recovering closer to normal, which is good."

Goalkeeper Krishan Bahadur Pathak said that the Chennai heat hasn't been particularly kind to the players, especially given that they've just returned from playing three matches in Spain. "We've played in such heat before, but we felt it a little more in the first two games because we'd just returned," Pathak said.

In addition to the goals India scored, they were also solid at the back, snuffing out the few attacks that Malaysia could muster. Pathak said it was down to analysing what had gone wrong in their previous game against Japan and ensuring that they kept their structure.

"It wasn't perfect, we had two yellow cards and we had some tough phases where we defended well. There's still a lot to work on, to be honest. But this is a good result in the phase we're in as a team," Fulton said.

Now that the team is back in the physical shape that Fulton wants them to be in, the second-half performance against Malaysia will be the standard that India would want to live up to for the rest of the tournament. They've got big games coming up as well. Korea, their next opponents, are the next highest-ranked side in the tournament after the hosts, and then the small matter of what is always a big clash against Pakistan, before potentially two more knockout games next weekend.

The focus for Fulton and India remains Olympic qualification through next month's Asian Games, but they have begun ticking a few boxes before heading to Hangzhou. The next week will determine how many more they can. The bar is now higher than it was at the start of the week in Chennai.