As the home team felt the noose tightening around their neck, they resorted to Plan ‘B’: hit a long shot inside the circle and look for a deflection. The plan was more hopeful than purposeful, but it nearly worked just before the end of the third quarter, only for Mandeep Singh, positioned near the far post, to completely miss Moritz Furste’s cross from outside the Delhi ‘D’. As a collective ‘ooh’ rang out in the arena, and Furste ran towards Mandeep, not to admonish the youngster for missing a sitter, but to put an encouraging arm around the 17-year-old who looked a bit dejected with himself. Furste had said after the semi-final that he didn’t want the youngster to feel under pressure, and his gesture showed this.
After the break, Mandeep and Ranchi looked a different team, as they put the Delhi defenders under more stress. In the 54th minute, Mandeep intercepted a loose backpass and induced an error out of Rupinder Pal Singh, who brought him down. The referee said play on, but the Ranchi striker protested vehemently and opted for a referral. The TV umpire awarded the home team a penalty corner. Even though they had missed the previous two, there was an air of inevitability about it: not unlike the feather-drop double-fault by Andy Murray in the Australian Open final. As Manpreet Singh prepared to push the ball towards Furste, the expectant crowd very briefly fell silent, anticipating a decisive shift in the game.
Dummy, strike, equaliser
And sure enough it came. Furste dummied and Austin Smith struck a carpet hugging hit to beat the near unbeatable Nicolas Jacobi to his left. With the equaliser, the stadium exploded into life. Egged on by the 12th man — the spectators, that is — Ranchi pushed pedal to metal, and with seven minutes remaining on the clock, went ahead with Manpreet Singh winning a penalty corner and then hitting home off a deflection to all but seal the result, as a shell-shocked Delhi struggled to re-emerge from their defensive mindset to go all out once more.
The crowd counted down the last five seconds, before letting out a huge victory roar. Ranchi’s spontaneous hockey had beaten a mechanical Delhi; madness had finally trumped method. For before this match, Ranchi had lost twice to Delhi and played out a draw. But they had been banging on the door, and they brought it down when it mattered the most.
It was also the first time that Delhi had lost a match after taking the lead. As he watched the Ranchi team take a lap of honour, Simon Child wore a faintly ironic smile. All must have seemed to be going according to script after he had latched on to a loose ball in the Ranchi circle and scored the opening goal, three minutes before half-time. But in a tournament that had seen hardly any comebacks, Mandeep and Ranchi turned the script on its head.
UP claim third spot
Captain V R Raghunath led from the front, scoring four goals including a golden goal in extra time, to help UP Wizards come from 3-0 down to beat Punjab Warriors and claim the third spot with a 4-3 win. Raghunath converted four penalty corners to ensure the win for the Wizards’ after they were down 0-3 till the 39th minute. Mark Knowles (4th minute), S V Sunil (8th) and Ranjit Singh (39th) scored for the Warriors to hand them a commanding lead in the game. But riding on skipper Raghunath’s (42nd, 62nd, 64th) precise penalty corner conversions, the Wizards made a strong comeback in the second half to level the scoreline.
In the two extra time periods of seven-and-a-half minutes a piece both the teams did not give an inch to the other and failed to break the deadlock. The Wizards earned an important penalty corner in the final minute of additional time and an accurate Raghunath made no mistake to sign off a memorable day for him as well as his team.