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Listless India lose third hockey Test to SA

Listless India lose third hockey Test to SA

India lost the third Test 3-1 to South Africa, who kept the five-Test series alive.

New Delhi: India hockey coach Michael Nobbs' search for a perfect combination for the Olympic qualifiers backfired on Thursday as India lost the third Test 3-1 to South Africa, who kept the five-Test series alive after losing the first two matches here at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.

Manipur's Kothajit Singh made his India debut in a match that saw some elementary mistakes costing India a number of scoring opportunities, especially in the second half.

For South Africa, Lloyd Madsen, Ian Haley and Craig Haley got themselves on the scoresheet as South Africa continued to improve after losing 4-0 in the first match and 2-1 in the second. After South Africa led 2-0 at half-time, the hosts staged a fightback through Sandeep Singh, who made it 2-1 in the second, but Craig Haley struck again, putting an end to India's comeback hopes.

South Africa looked more organised in the first half with moves from India few and far in between, largely from Rajpal Singh playing in his customary right-out position. Starting on an aggressive note, the visitors got back-to-back PCs relatively early in the 13th minute. The variation tried by the visitors almost worked on the second penalty corner (PC) but Vikram Pillay's stick deflected the push wide just in front of the goal.

In a 21st-minute move down the left wing, the South African outside left sent the corner in but the deflection of a South African stick, which was going into the goal, struck Sandeep's foot and the umpire pointed towards the penalty-stroke mark. Madsen stepped up and beat Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh to put South Africa ahead.

Yuvraj Walmiki, whom Nobbs tested as a centre-forward in this match, had an off game, missing a number of chances. Sardar Singh returned for the game but his lack of coordination with an untested forward line was evident.

While India couldn't convert the PC they got in the 29th minute, South Africa took the chance that came their way in the 35th, with Ian Haley completing a field goal to make it 2-0.

India began attackingly with a flurry of chances in the opening exchanges of the second half but the conversion remained poor. Sardar and Yuvraj came close to scoring but were denied by a vigilant defence and Erasmus Pieterse in the South African goal.

The much-awaited goal for India came in the 49th minute through a PC that came India's way after Arjun Halappa was pushed from behind inside the 25-yard line. Sandeep made no mistake to make it 2-1.

But six minutes later, in the 55th, South African No. 15 Craig Haley made the counter-attack count to catch India napping and increase his team’s lead to 3-1.

India earned two more PCs, in the 56th and 70th minute, but South Africa held on for a much-deserved win to make the five-match series 2-1.

In the post-match press conference, India's coach Nobbs was pretty disappointed with the umpiring and some 'basic' errors India made in the game.

"The umpiring was at best pretty average, as were some of our basic skills. The result, as I have said earlier, is not important than finding a potent combination for the Olympic qualifiers, which is the major thing coming up in 4-5 weeks' time."

South African coach Gregg Clark was happy with his team's performance but emphasised on continued improvement for his team. "For the first time in the series, I am happy with the performance. But we got to make sure that we don't confuse the result with the performance, though the way we got our victory today was pleasing."

Earlier in the day, the Indian women's team whitewashed Azerbaijan in the four-Test series, winning the last match 2-0.