Defending champion Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Indian Railways couldn’t have asked for a better start to their campaign in the 90th all-India MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament here on Friday.
IOC drubbed a listless Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu 5-1 in a Pool A clash while Railways, the reigning National champion, performed like a well-oiled machine to script a 4-1 win over Army XI in Pool B.
In the third and last match of the day, Air India scored its first win in two matches, a 3-0 triumph over Mumbai HA in a Pool A contest.
There were no first-match jitters for Railways. The team’s positional play was near perfect, reducing the Armymen to mere spectators for most of the first session.
Linkman Affan Yousuf provided the spark with exceptional stick-work and defence-splitting passes, enabling Railways to raid the Army XI defence at will. Every one of Yousuf’s attacks had the stamp of authority not seen so far in the tournament.
Railways scored the opening goal with Amit Rohidas finding the back of the net with a neatly-placed penalty-corner conversion.
Generally, a plucky opponent, Army XI was placid in attack as well as defence. Except for a gilt-edged chance in the ninth minute, when a B.P. Poovanna’s shot was cleared by ’keeper Jagaraj Singh, it had little to offer.
The equaliser by Army XI off a penalty-corner by Jonny Jasrotia did little to dispel the belief that it was playing against a well-settled team.
Railways only got better in the second half with Yousuf making some wonderful run-ins.
Soon, Talwinder Singh unleashed a forehander from the top of the circle to regain the lead and around 10 minutes later, Yousuf pushed one more home after a lovely 1-2 from the right with Talwinder.
A hapless and dejected Army allowed things to drift further and Railways found its fourth when J.P. Kush converted a cross from the right to announce its arrival as a title-contender.
If Railways proved its class, Tamil Nadu in its match against IOC realised how far it still has to go to reach the level of top teams.
The first three goals came in a matter of 15 minutes and the match ended right then. At half-time, IOC led 4-0.
It was obvious that the TN boys were overawed by the aura of Internationals V.R Raghunath, Kothajit and Prabhjot Singh.
Raghunath sounded the boards in the second minute with a perfect grounder off a penalty-corner. A long pass from Raghunath saw Prabhjot Singh deflecting home for the second.
A terrible defensive lapse resulted in the third goal. There was no one to mark Sanjay who had ample time to take a cross from the right to sweep one past ’keeper Arun Prasad. Prabhjot added to Tamil Nadu’s agony with a nice deflection.
The second session saw TN putting up a semblance of a fight, but it was a case of too little too late. Hassan Basha’s lone goal meant little in the overall scheme of things.
Pool A: IOC 5 (V.R. Raghunath 2, Sanjay 13, Prabhjot Singh 10 & 33, Deepak Thakur 50) bt HUTN 1 (Hassan Basha 45).
Air India 3 (Arjun Sharma 27, Joga Singh 40, Osaf-ur-Rehman 46) bt Mumbai HA 0.
Pool B: Indian Railways 4 (Amit Rohidas 30, Talwinder Singh 37, Affan Yousuf 44, J.P. Kush 55) bt Army XI 1 (Jonny Jasrotia 24).