A gallant never-say-die Kookaburras outfit has gone down to a Harmanpreet Singh inspired India 5-4 in a pulsating FIH Pro League encounter at Rourkela’s Birsa Munda Stadium.
After Josh Beltz put the Kookaburras ahead early, the hosts replied in emphatic fashion to lead 4-1 at half time before the Australians mounted a stirring comeback.
However, a hat-trick from Harmanpreet and some desperate Indian defending late on prevented the Kookaburras from taking any points out of the highly spirited contest.
Among the positives for the Kookaburras was a first international goal for Ben Staines in just his second game.
With India entering the match off a rest day, while the Kookaburras were backing up 24 hours after their narrow loss to Germany, the hosts sent an early warning shot through Gurjant Singh.
However, it was the Kookaburras who went ahead with their first foray forward in the 3rd minute.
Tasmanians Jack Welch and Beltz combined superbly down the left, the latter directing a ball towards Craig Marais at the far post which caused confusion between Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh and one of his defenders resulting in the ball ending up over the goal line.
Aran Zalewski did well to block a goal bound Harmanpreet drag flick as India enjoyed a string of penalty corners, however the Kookaburras were resolute in defence.
The Kookaburras were playing with great energy and Staines almost finished off a slick move, only to see his shot blocked by an approaching Sreejesh.
Harmanpreet then turned the game on its head when he converted two drag flicks in as many minutes to put India in front at quarter time.
Eddie Ockenden was shown a yellow card in the play that led to Harmanpreet’s second goal and India made the most of the Australian games record holder’s absence to go 3-1 up in the 18th minute.
Karthi Selvam then unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner to further extend the margin. Despite having just one less shot in the first half the Kookaburras went into half time with a three goal deficit.
Jacob Anderson stung the gloves of Pawan with a shot in search of a quick response before Ky Willott pegged a goal back after fine build up play from Tim Howard and James Collins.
Anand Gupte went close to cutting the lead to one, his well taken drag flick saved well by Pawan in the Indian goal.
Staines then made it 4-3, pouncing on a rebound from a penalty corner to hit a sweetly timed shot that hammered into the backboard with 8 minutes remaining.
Another on target Harmanpreet drag flick put the margin back out to two with five minutes left before defender Howard set up a thrilling finale when he made it 5-4 with just his second international goal in 109 appearances.
Goalkeeper Ben Rennie came off with three and a half minutes to play as the Kookaburras looked to take advantage of an extra field player.
The majority of the final two minutes was played in the Kookaburras’ attacking 25 metre area but they could not find a late equaliser.
“I thought it was a really good match played in really good spirits so it’s a shame so many people got carded,” said Zalewski.
“Five goals against is disappointing and unfortunately we didn’t get on the end of the right result today.”
The Kookaburras now have a rest day before a second encounter against Germany on 14 March.
The FIH Pro League is broadcast in Australia on FOX Sports, available on Foxtel and Kayo.
India 5 (Harmanpreet 14’/15’/55’, Jugraj 18’, Karthi Selvam 26’)
Kookaburras 4 (J.Beltz 3’, Willott 43’, Staines 52’, Howard 56’)
@ Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium, Rourkela
Kookaburras: 4.Jake Harvie, 8.Johan Durst (gk), 9.Jacob Anderson, 10.Josh Beltz, 11.Eddie Ockenden, 12.Jake Whetton, 15.Jayden Atkinson, 16.Tim Howard, 17.Aran Zalewski (c), 18.Ben Rennie (gk), 19.Craig Marais, 20.Ky Willott, 21.Jack Welch, 26.James Collins, 33.Hayden Beltz, 36.Anand Gupte, 44.Ben Staines, 48.Davis Atkin