Ipoh: Young striker Nikkin Thimmaiah scored a hat-trick as India produced their best performance of the tournament to stun world champions and title holders Australia 4-2 and secure a place in the third and fourth place play-off at the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament.
Already out of title race, India played without pressure and at last came up with a complete performance that had Australia on the backfoot for most part of the match.
The win gave also gave India’s new chief coach Paul van Ass his best moment of a short career with the Indian team.
India scored a goal each in all the four quarters through VR Raghunath (1st minute), Nikkin (23rd, 32nd, 60th), while Australia’s goals came from the sticks of Daniel Beale (14th) and Matt Gohdes (53rd).
By virtue of this win, India finished their league engagements with seven points from five games and will now face Korea in the third-fourth place classification match after the East Asians drew 3-3 with New Zealand on Sunday.
The Kookaburras struggled for ball possession throughout the match and their defence crumbled when put under pressure by the Indian forwards.
Barring the two soft goals which they conceded, there was no blemish in India’s performance on Saturday.
After four games, the Indians at last showed class and made a promising start to the match against a side which is way above in current world hockey.
India were by far the better side on display in the entire 60 minutes as they dominated the proceedings against all expectations.
The Indians were off to a great start as they went on the offensive from the word go and in the process earned two penalty corners in succession with the very first move of the match and Raghunath converted the second set piece with a booming flick to give the side an early lead.
The Indians continued in the same vein and had another great chance in the 10th minute which was wasted by Satbir Singh who scooped over with only the approaching Australia goalkeeper Tristan Clemons to beat.
Next minute, Ramandeep Singh’s effort was saved by Australian goalkeeper Clemons and Akashdeep Singh shot wide from the resultant rebound.
The Indian defence, however, broke down just a minute from the end of the first quarter as Australia equalized through Beale, who got plenty of space inside the Indian circle and made no mistake in pushing in Trent Mitton’s pass.
Four minutes into the second quarter, Satbir Singh hit one straight to the Australian goalie Clemons.
Minutes later, India restored their lead when Nikkin scored his first of the day after being set up by Satbir and SK Uthappa’s fine play.
Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh made a double save two minutes later from Australia’s second penalty corner before Ramandeep missed another opportunity for India.
Just two minutes after the change of ends, India had another opportunity but when Raghunath’s scoop from the deep found Akashdeep Singh but the striker’s first time shot was blocked by Clemons.
From the very next move, India made the scoreline 3-1 in their favour through second strike from Nikkin, who neatly deflected in a Manpreet Singh pass from the right.
Sreejesh once again came to the fore when he denied Nicholas Budgeon from Australia’s third penalty corner.
After the start of the fourth and final quarter, both India and Australia wasted one more penalty corner each.
Australia reduced the margin in the seven minutes from the hooter when Gohdes caught the Indian defence offguard by deflecting in a Budgeon’s splitting diagonal ball from outside the circle.
Australia had two penalty corners thereafter which they squandered.
Nikkin sealed the match for India just at the stroke of the hooter scoring with a reverse hit from a counter-attack.
By virtue of this win, India avenged their 1-2 loss to Australia at the FIH Champions Trophy in December last year.
The loss snapped Australia’s unbeaten run in the tournament and gave them a wake up call before Sunday’s final.